The Liberian Government was aware that Patrick Sawyer, its citizen who brought the Ebola virus into Nigeria, had possibly contracted the virus from his late sister, yet cleared him to travel to Nigeria for a conference organised by the Economic Community of West African States [ECOWAS], PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report today.
Documents obtained by this newspaper showed that Mr. Sawyer’s employers, ArcelorMittal, an iron mining company, suspended him from work and isolated him after it became aware that he had contact with his sister who died of the virus on July 8.
The company also issued an internal memo to staff of the company informing them that Mr. Sawyer had been referred to the Liberian Health ministry for testing and close observation.
“A family member of an ArcelorMittal Liberia employee died on Tuesday, July 8th, in Monrovia due to a confirmed case of the Ebola virus,” the July 11 edition of Satellite, an internal newsletter of ArcelorMittal Liberia, said. “The employee had minimal contact with the victim, at the state where the virus was infectious.
“Doctors say the risk of potential transfer to any member of the ArcelorMittal staff or contractors is very low. The employee has submitted to the Ministry of Health for a medical examination for possible Ebola infection, and has also requested the Ministry of Health to make the result available to ArcelorMittal Liberia and its close affiliates.
“There is no evidence to suggest that the employee has been infected. Under the Ministry of Health guidelines, the employee is being monitored on a daily basis and will continue to do so for a period of 21 days. During this time the employee will be absent from work.”
The July 25 edition of the Satellite, which announced Mr. Sawyer’s death, reads:
“Patrick was last at the Buchanan site (of AncelorMittal) on 9th July when he informed us about the death of his sister. Having informed us of this news, Patrick was submitted to the Ministry of Health for a medical observation and isolation and requested not to return to work until he had passed through the incubation period. He has not been at the Buchanan site or in any ArcelorMittal office since that time.”
But despite being under isolation and observation for the deadly disease, the Liberian Government, through its Deputy Finance Minister For Fiscal Affairs, Sebastian Muah, cleared Mr. Sawyer to travel to Nigeria for an ECOWAS convention in Calabar.
The deputy minister personally admitted approving the trip in an online discussion forum, where some Liberian citizens raised questions about his action and competence.
Mr. Muah could not be reached for comments on Monday. His mobile telephone was switched off the numerous times PREMIUM TIMES called.
But the Liberian Minister of Information, Lewis Brown, admitted to this newspaper that his government knew Mr. Sawyer was possibly infected by the virus before he travelled to Nigeria.
“I can confirm to you that he was advised by the Chief Medical Officer at the Ministry of Health not to leave the country because he was under observation,” Mr. Brown said by telephone from Monrovia, the Liberian capital. “It was regrettable that he left the country while being observed.
“We felt he had a duty to his colleagues to tell them that he was under observation for the disease. We also felt he had a duty to our country and yours (Nigeria) not to leave Liberia so as not to endanger the lives of others.”
Asked why a Liberian government official approved Mr. Sawyer’s trip to Nigeria even when the administration was watching him for Ebola, Mr. Brown said he had no information that the Deputy Minister, Mr. Muah, okayed the journey.
He however explained that such an administrative slip was possible at the time Mr. Sawyer left Liberia for Nigeria because at that time, inter-agency cooperation among government departments was low.
“It’s possible the health ministry was monitoring him (Mr. Sawyer) but the finance ministry did not know,” Mr. Brown said. “It was a slip and we have learned from it regrettably.”
He said the Patrick Sawyer incident had now compelled Liberia to rework its procedures.
“Now the practice is to share the names of everyone under observation with all other agencies, including the airport, so they cannot leave the country,” the minister said.
“Before the Patrick Sawyer incident, we did not have that kind of cooperation. We were not locking people under observation down. We were only bringing them to the isolation centre after they showed signs of the disease.”
Liberian newspaper, The New Dawn, which saw the CCTV footage recorded at the James Spriggs Payne’s Airport, Monrovia, moments before Mr. Sawyer boarded an Asky Airline plane to Lagos on July 20, reported that he looked “terribly ill” and wore a “sad countenance“ like someone in severe pain.
Apparently overtaken by “excruciating pain,” he, at a point, laid flat on his stomach on the floor in the corridor of the airport.
The paper also reported the footage as capturing Mr. Sawyer sitting alone and avoiding bodily contacts with other passengers who came close to him at the boarding gate of the airport as he awaited his flight to Lagos.
Mr. Sawyer became severely ill on the plane and was taken to First Consultant Hospital, Obalende, from the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos.
Reports of events before he travelled to Nigeria and soon after his death have now shown that top Liberian government officials were aware of his trip to Nigeria and appeared to have done nothing to stop him.
The reports have also shown that Mr. Sawyer did not escape from where he was quarantined as reported by some newspapers.
In fact, the actions of some Liberian officials suggested that they were more concerned with getting Mr. Sawyer to the convention venue in Calabar and cared very little about the health risk he posed.
After he died, First Consultant Hospital issued a statement saying it resisted immense pressure from Liberian officials to discharge Mr. Sawyer from the hospital to enable him to attend the convention in Calabar, with diplomats saying he had a key role to play at the convention.
Nigeria was free of Ebola until July 20 when Mr. Sawyer arrived.
He became terribly ill on his flight and was rushed to the First Consultant Hospital Obalende, Lagos, where he died on July 24.
Nigeria’s Health Minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said on Monday that although the Liberian government has apologized for the incidence, it was pertinent to note that Nigeria was free of Ebola Virus until its importation by the Liberian-American.
Mr. Sawyer’s action, he said, has placed unnecessary stress on Nigeria’s health system.