Ebola Can Now Be Tested in Liberia
Alaskai Moore Johnson, Observer Health Correspondent
“We want to let the country know that in order to beat this disease, we have to work very fast to diagnose people [who] we think have the disease. We have not been able to do it by ourselves. We have been sending [blood] samples from here to Guinea. We are happy to report that with the help of the United States Government’s Department of Defense, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Médecins Sans Frontière (MSF), we have now set up our own lab here at LIBR [Liberia Institute for Biomedical Research],” said elated Health and Social Welfare Minister, Dr. Walter Traub Gwenigale.
On Wednesday, April 16, Dr. Gwenigale formally opened the Ebola testing lab within the National Reference Lab at the Liberian Institute for Biomedical Research in Charlesville, Margibi County.
The Health Minister said the US Department of Defense contracted a private company, Metabiota, to setup the Ebola Testing Center. The center can produce results within 24 hours, according to officials maintaining and operating the lab.
The officials stated that in addition to testing for the Ebola virus, the new testing center can also run tests for lassa fever, dengue fever, malaria and other hemorrhagic diseases. They even boasted that the new Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machine that does the job can also conduct multiple tests at once and produce individual results for all those tests.
The Health Minister also disclosed that another lab would be set up in Foya, Lofa County; epicenter of the outbreak in Liberia.
“The most important news is that another treatment center will be set up in Foya. We are encouraging people that are feeling sick to stay in Foya and go to the treatment center there,” the Health Minister advised.
Dr. Gwenigale urged the people in Foya not to come down to Firestone in Margibi when they become ill with fever. Even if most of their relatives live and work on the Firestone Rubber Plantation. He said the Foya center would be opened in the next two days.
This statement comes in the wake of Firestone being the single largest private employer in Liberia. The Health Minister’s fear is that if there is an outbreak in that part of the country, it would cause the country a very serious economic crisis. The second confirmed case of someone to die from the Ebola virus disease (EVD) was in Harbel, Firestone.
The Health and Social Welfare Minister also disclosed that discussions were underway with authorities of the Firestone-run Du-Side Hospital to setup a treatment center there. “We are also putting a treatment center at ELWA Hospital [in Paynesville City] and the JFK Medical Center [in Sinkor, Monrovia],” he added.
An employee of the US Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. (Ph.D) Lisa Hensley, who is working along with staff of the Ebola testing center, said she is impressed with the Liberian staff. She praised their speed and said they did impressive work setting up the equipment to get the lab ready.
Dr. Nestor Ndayimirije, WHO-Liberia’s Country Representative, said he was “very pleased to see that Liberia’s National Reference Laboratory now has the full capacity to diagnose Ebola.”
Dr. Ndayimirije said it was a pleasure for him to see Metabiota cross the border from Kanema, Sierra Leone, where they are based to come over to help Liberia under the overall support of the US Government.
Dr. Philip Saah, Director of the National Reference Lab, extended his thanks and appreciations to all the key players, who made it possible to setup the lab.
Though he regrets the loss of lives to Ebola, he called the opening of the lab a blessing in disguise because his long-time dream of getting the lab setup and fully functional hadn’t been realized until this outbreak.
Dr. Saah maintained that samples would no longer go to Guinea for testing.