Liberia is finally free of Ebola, but not without leaving over 4,700 dead. The World Health Organization declared the country in Western Africa finally free of the viral disease last Saturday, which makes it the first among the three hardest-hit countries to have the terrifying epidemic formally end.
In the wake of death
Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city was the setting of some of the most tragic scenes during the height of the Ebola outbreak. Treatment centers were overflowing with afflicted patients and many died on the hospital grounds. Even worse, most of the bodies remained where they were for days due to the sheer number of people that needed treatment.
The outbreak hit big cities with people living in close quarters, which helped further spread the virus. Additionally, many West African countries like Liberia had an alarmingly low amount of doctors, nurses and supplies even before the outbreak, which meant that many were not able to respond well to the initial outbreak. Others also note that there was difficulty in convincing locals to stop the tradition of washing their dead relatives, which actually helped further spread the virus and contaminate people.
An air of fear and dread swept over the country as fuel and food ran low, flights were cancelled, and schools, businesses were shut down. Borders and even health facilities had to close down, which further compounded the situation. Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who visited the country last August notes that ‘We went through just a horrific epidemic. It’s a searing memory that many of us will carry with us for the rest of our lives.’
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia held a moment of silence for those who perished at the height of the outbreak, thanking the Liberians who fought the disease and the countries and international partners that helped them through the epidemic. She urges, however, to ‘Stay mindful and vigilant.’ While it is a phenomenal victory to celebrate, there is still an outbreak in neighbors like Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Despite the success in Liberia, many are criticizing the WHO response in handling the outbreak. Many note that the initial response to the outbreak was clumsy at best, with many officials and health works ill prepared to handle the people affected by the disease. Dr. Frieden recounted how back in March last year, he attempted to get his teams into Guinea, where the outbreak originated, but WHO leaders would not allow them.
The director said that he was even questioned if he was qualified, asking for CVs for proof. He further explains that even when his teams were allowed to get in to help address the outbreak they did not feel welcome, and many of the WHO leaders were too overconfident with their abilities. In the wake of outbreak, many are taking Liberia’s experience as a lesson and reminder of the dangers of being too ill prepared.