ELWA Hospital encounters first COVID-19 cases

By Tianna Haas | Liberia in África occidental

ELWA tent, donated by Samaritan’s Purse, where out-patients can be safely seen for further screening and treatment.

The Liberian hospital at the centre of Ebola treatment and patient care in 2014 has seen its first cases of COVID-19.

Sadly, the two patients diagnosed with COVID-19 died within 24 hours of their arrival to Monrovia’s ELWA Hospital, an SIM medical ministry, before test results could confirm their condition.

The first, a 72-year-old man, had breathing problems and was given oxygen in the Respiratory Treatment Unit (RTU), set up in what was ELWA’s female ward. The condition of the second patient, a woman in her sixties, was more advanced when she was admitted to the RTU for treatment and testing before she passed away.

Workers at the hospital became familiar with adversity through the Ebola crisis, but it has also helped them see God work in the difficulties of the coronavirus pandemic. As comparisons between the former and current crises arise, those who withstood Ebola, like SIM Liberia director David Writebol, reflect on God’s sovereignty in times past.

David said: “Some of the same feelings and the same challenges are present. It does give us some experience to fall back upon, but if we’ve learned anything in living in Africa, it’s not to get too presumptuous and assume that we know it all. There are always surprises.

“Since we have been down this road before, we remind ourselves of all that God has done, and we see people more open to talk about spiritual things and returning thoughts about how God has been our Helper in the past.”

David observed that most Liberians feel overwhelmed by the onslaught of a new crisis. He said: “Disbelief is one of the biggest problems, as [the Ebola crisis] was six years ago. People do not like the idea of being isolated in a treatment centre, so they prefer to skirt around the regulations. Community stigmatization against suspect patients or health workers is high. Families have resisted accepting the positive COVID-19 test result or cause of death.”

When the first case of COVID-19 was identified on March 15, a health crisis planning team formed. The team created protocols to identify and isolate suspected COVID-19 patients. The staff separates patients who are symptomatic of COVID-19 from others as soon as they enter the facility. If patients are ambulatory, they are screened in a tent donated by Samaritan’s Purse to determine the need for testing by the County Health Team.

David said: “The hospital staff has received training in Infection Control Procedures and in properly donning and doffing PPE. As expected, responding to this requires a significant amount of PPE, gloves, face masks and shields, nasal cannulas, oxygen and oxygen generators.”

These supplies are expensive and difficult to obtain locally, although this is their only option with importation down. ELWA Hospital does not have ventilators or personnel trained to operate them. However, their oxygen plant, donated by the Rotary Club, will be essential to care for COVID-19 patients.

Due to the global nature of the pandemic, some short-term healthcare workers had to cancel trips to serve at ELWA, but the hospital has a robust staff of Liberian, other African and international workers to continue offering services. David said: “We don’t feel that we are short-handed, though we have placed some of our Liberian staff who are in high-risk categories for COVID-19 (older staff, ones with pre-existing conditions and compromised immune systems) on home leave to reduce the chance that they might get exposed.”

ELWA Hospital aims to balance the strain on their staff while supporting the sick. David said: “Our concern going forward is that the hospital leadership manage their workload and off times to get adequate rest and recovery.

“Our goal is to keep the hospital service going for patients who have other medical conditions while we safely serve suspected COVID-19 patients. We have cancelled elective surgeries, but the out-patient clinic, obstetrics, and the dental clinic remain open. Although, we have noted fewer patients coming.”

Hospital chaplains minister to the patients and staff throughout the hospital, as well as in the RTU, since they’ve also had Infection Control Procedure training and wear PPE. David said: “They’re prepared to enter the patient rooms and pray with the patients, many times being the main support, as their loved ones cannot enter the RTU.” The hospital also shows the Jesus Film and Christian programming in waiting areas to point visitors to the gospel.

The pandemic presents a chance for Christians at ELWA and elsewhere to testify to the resurrection of Christ and the promise of eternity. David said: “This is a great opportunity for us to bear witness to the truth that death has lost its sting and the grave holds no terror for those who are in Christ.

“How privileged we are to take to our heart the great truth that it is not death to die, rather that it is the door through which we enter into life everlasting – a far better existence than could ever be imagined. In the meantime, let us love others as we have been loved.”

Pray for:

• opportunities for the gospel of Jesus Christ to be heard and received at ELWA Hospital.

• patients who contract the virus to recover quickly. 

• the contagion to end amid the dire predictions of experts, demonstrating that God is sovereign and extends mercy to the world. 

• the staff treating patients to use their training and follow good practices so that they do not contract COVID-19. 

• ELWA Hospital and ELWA ministry to receive sufficient funds to maintain the wages and pay for supplies and utilities to keep the hospital open.

• peace and calm to remain so that there is not further suffering and fear in this fragile country.

Help medical ministries like ELWA

ELWA Hospital and other medical ministries are in great need of resources to withstand the coronavirus pandemic. SIM's COVID-19 Immediate Response project offers relief to these healthcare facilities.

Can you contribute financially to help them purchase vital equipment, protective supplies and medical materials? To give now, select the location closest to you on our donation page and use project number 99753.