‘Happy’ Liberia is finally Ebola free

‘Let us celebrate’: Women dance in the streets as Liberia is declared free of Ebola © PA

The international community has successfully worked with the Liberian people to rid their country of the Ebola virus. Is this story an ideal model for future aid projects?

When the outbreak of the terrifying Ebola virus first hit Liberia, there were just 51 doctors amid a population of 4.5 million people. In the capital city of Monrovia, the largest hospitals lacked running water, electricity and gloves, doing more to spread the deadly virus than cure it. At the peak of the crisis, no treatment beds were available anywhere in the country. Schools and airports were closed. Bodies could be left for days without being collected.

Now, after months of hard work from Liberia’s health workers and with the help of international aid, the country has finally been declared Ebola free. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that there have been no new cases for 42 days: double the maximum incubation period for the virus.

‘Liberia indeed is a happy nation,’ President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told the BBC, although she acknowledged the difficult times they had faced. In total, the country lost around 4,700 people to the virus, including 189 medical workers. ‘Even today if you hear an ambulance siren you shake a little bit,’ said the president.

How did Liberia finally stop the virus? The WHO said that it was a combination of President Sirleaf’s strong leadership and a focus on community effort. With churches, village chiefs and youth groups being encouraged to raise awareness and report suspected cases, the whole country was able to work together to stop the virus spreading. Meanwhile, international support meant that new clinics could quickly be built to help treat more patients.

The fight is not over yet. Neighbouring countries Guinea and Sierra Leone are still reporting new cases, and Liberia has suffered huge economic losses. But there is hope. ‘Ebola will not come back,’ said nurse Bessie Johnson, highlighting her clinic’s new isolation room and hand-washing facilities. ‘It won’t happen again.’

Strength in numbers

It’s easy to look at the world around us and feel despair, many will say, but this is evidence of the amazing things we can achieve when we work together. The health workers could not have stopped the crisis without help from the international community, but the international community could not have helped without the Liberians who understood how to quickly educate and engage the population. It is a testament to the power of teamwork.

It’s true that Liberia’s story should inspire the world’s responses to international crises, others respond. But it wasn’t perfect. The WHO itself has said that it was ‘ill-prepared’ for an outbreak of this size, and its response to the initial crisis was slow. If we want to prevent this from happening again, we have to focus on improving basic healthcare before epidemics strike.

You Decide

  1. Is it fair to blame the world’s richest countries for the plight of the poorest?
  2. Now that the Ebola crisis seems to be over, what should Liberia focus on next?

Activities

  1. Watch the video on the causes of Ebola in our Become an Expert section. Design a poster explaining how to prevent the disease from spreading.
  2. Get into groups and imagine you are part of a healthcare team which is being sent to a country in the middle of an Ebola outbreak. What are your three main priorities?

Some People Say...

“Foreign aid must be viewed as an investment, not an expense.”

US congresswoman Kay Granger

What do you think?

Q & A

Are we still at risk of Ebola in the UK?
The threat to the UK (and other developed countries) was always small — it has a far more robust healthcare system, and many years of experience treating and containing infections. The small number of cases that the UK saw over the last year were from health workers returning from West Africa. Still, it never hurts to make sure you always wash your hands properly!
What will happen in Liberia now?
This news is a huge relief for the country, but it has a lot of work ahead. It has put forward an ‘Ebola Recovery Plan’ which hopes to rebuild its health system and improve schools, sanitation and access to clean water. But thanks to the economic losses caused by the virus, it has said that most of the funding will need to come from elsewhere.

Word Watch

Spread the deadly virus
Ebola only spreads through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids, including saliva, blood and vomit. This means that with the proper equipment and protective clothing, it can easily be contained. However, a lack of knowledge about the disease and poor healthcare resources meant that it spread through West Africa all too quickly.
Incubation period
The time between infection and Ebola’s first symptoms can be anything from two to 21 days.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
President Sirleaf was elected in 2005 after promising to end corruption and civil war in Liberia. She was the first female head of state to be elected in Africa, and she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.
Huge economic losses
Many foreign companies withdrew from Liberia during the crisis, including several airlines which could help businesses get back on their feet. Before the outbreak, the country’s economy was growing under President Sirleaf, and the rate of growth had shot up to 8.3% in 2013.

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