Liberia’s Frantic Effort To Combat Ebola: ‘There Is A Threat To Our National Existence’

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jonathan Paye-Layleh

People hang out in a street under a banner which warns people to be cautious about Ebola, in Monrovia, Liberia.

Liberia’s Ministry of Health & Social Welfare recently drafted a $20 million action plan to combat the Ebola virus, according to Since reports of an Ebola outbreak in neighboring Guinea first surfaced in February, more than 700 people – including more than 120 Liberians– have died within days of contracting the virus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Officials will most likely use the funds, in combination with an initial $5 million contribution from Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s office, to bridge a resource gap that’s complicated virologists’ efforts to combat Ebola. Recent reports highlighted a shortage of medical supplies – including specimen collection tubes, body bags, spray cans, stationaries and gloves – doctors, and fuel for vehicles. Construction of a holding center at the G.W. Harley Hospital in Nimba County has also stalled. Tolbert Nyenswah, Liberia’s assistant minister of health has appealed for more international aid, including additional medical personnel experienced in treating the disease.

While the multi-million dollar plan shows promise of impactful action, more than a quarter of the Liberian population still denies Ebola’s existence. Reports of people escaping quarantined areas have surfaced in recent weeks. Additionally, many Africans have placed much of the blame on foreign medical professionals for the Ebola outbreak. In April, an angry mob converged on a Guinea hospital, causing an evacuation and shuttering of the hospital shortly after.

“We are going to do everything to mobilize resources if that’s what it will take to fight the disease,” said Liberian Finance Minister Amara Konneh. “Of course, we are a government and a national emergency has been declared; there is a threat to our national existence. What good is it to have money in the bank and to have assets that you can put up as collateral for a loan? What good is it to have all these relationships with the rest of the world if you are not alive?”

Humans can contract the Ebola virus through contact with an infected human, or the blood and bodily fluids of infected fruit bats and monkeys. Once humans contact the virus, symptoms – which include fever, sore throat and muscles, headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and internal bleeding – appear within two days to three weeks. The WHO said the Ebola virus death rate falls between 60 and 90 percent. Prevention hinges on killing and properly disposing of Ebola-infected animals, wearing protective clothing, and washing hands when around people infected with the virus. No vaccine currently exists.

Experts say the impact of the ongoing outbreak in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone surpasses that of an outbreak that gripped Uganda, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Guinea in the early 2000s, ultimately taking more than 200 lives. In a densely populated West Africa, containment has proven difficult: in April, three people in Mali contracted Ebola. Earlier this month, an American man showed symptoms of the virus during a flight from Liberia to Lagos, Nigeria and died days later. This week, the U.S. Peace Corps temporarily evacuated 340 of its volunteers from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone after doctors quarantined two volunteers.

Sirleaf recently declared a state of emergency in Liberia, closing the country’s borders and cancelling large public gatherings. Earlier this month, leaders of 11 African countries – including Ghana, Guinea, Senegal, and Sierra Leone – drafted an action plan that would place a “sub-regional control center” in Guinea, increase cross-border communication, raise awareness among people living in the region, and improve reporting of the illness. WHO personnel – including regional advisers, epidemiologists, communications experts, social mobilization specialists, data managers – have a presence at the control center. Other world leaders have also taken precaution against the unprecedented public health threat. Officials in the United Kingdom met this week to outline an action plan in the event that U.K. nationals contract the virus. Nigerian airports also suspended flights going to Liberia.