President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf could not wait to hear Liberia declared “Ebola-free.” This is something that she and every Liberian, both at home and in the Diaspora and their sympathizers, have dreamt about.
The long-awaited declaration was imminent a few weeks ago but the nation suffered a set-back when after completing over 25 days of counting and anxious waiting, a confirmed case was reported.
But “The Magic Day,” finally came last Saturday when World Health Organization's (WHO) Representative to Liberia, Dr. Alex Gasasira, read a statement declaring Liberia free of Ebola transmission.
The pronouncement came after Liberia completed the required 42 days representing two incubation periods of the virus without a confirmed case.
President Sirleaf, upon hearing this long awaited news burst into excitement.
On Saturday morning the President embarked on what many of her officials termed as “the honorable thing”. She boarded one of the donated Indian Asok Leyland buses, dubbed as “Air Force One”, for a tour of all major health facilities in Monrovia and its environs to thank healthcare workers for their efforts that led the country to the finish line.
Accompanying President Sirleaf were many of her lieutenants including Foreign Minister Augustine Ngafuan and Health Minister designate, Dr. Bernice Dahn. United States Ambassador, Deborah Malac, European Union Ambassador, Tiina Interlmann, representatives of the United Nations system and other global organizations also accompanied the President.
The triumphant tour began at the James Spriggs Payne Airfield, right opposite her residence where a group of women had already gathered, dancing and singing. These women in blue lappas and white tops were seen there throughout the Ebola outbreak, praying to God for deliverance on behalf of the country.
The tour took the President and her entourage to the ELWA ETUs, the JFK Memorial Hospital, the Catholic Hospital, Redemption and the Island Clinic ETUs. She also visited relatives of a family that lost eleven members while two persons, a baby and a teenage girl survived.
On hand to welcome the President at the ELWA ETU was its director, Dr. Jerry Brown, a New York Times award winning hero who helped cure many Ebola victims. The president shook hands and hugged others.
At the ELWA compound, she embraced Dr. Brown and thanked him for making the country proud.
“You are one of our true heroes. You came when we were confused and took on a task that no one was ever thinking of or willing to do,” she told him.
Dr. Brown was the first to establish a temporary ETU to host victims during the heat of the crisis.
President Sirleaf expressed excitement at the country being declared free, but said this could not have been possible without the many health workers’ efforts.
It was time to celebrate, she said, but urged Liberians to celebrate with caution and remain vigilant.
She paid tribute to all of her compatriots, especially medical practitioners who lost their lives to the virus.
The President said she sometimes re-lived some of the horrifying moments during the height of the Ebola epidemic when sirens kept sounding across the city.
“Liberia Has Crossed the Rubicon”
President Sirleaf had said in an earlier interview that the country had “crossed the Rubicon” and this is because everyone worked to ensure that the virus was defeated.
“We will celebrate our communities which have taken responsibility and participated in fighting this unknown enemy and finally we've crossed the Rubicon. Liberia indeed is today a happy nation."
· The Rubicon is an ancient Roman law that forbade any general from crossing the Rubicon River and entering Italy proper with a standing army. To do so was treason. Julius Caesar, the powerful Roman emperor, crossed it in 49 B.C.
Everywhere the President went, people were in a jubilant mood with Liberians from all walks of life expressing their feelings on placards, some chanting and making speeches. Most expressed gratitude that Liberia was now free of Ebola.
People on the streets could not hide their excitement at conquering Ebola which took the lives of over 4000 of their compatriots.
“Thank God we are finally free. It wasn’t easy but we have made it,” a local journalist, Gordon Garway said.
“With all of our differences, when Ebola came we became more united and fought this menace together,” the LIB24 Radio and television presenter, said.
“Don’t forget that Ebola has been defeated through collective efforts. We agreed to follow the preventive measures, hand-washing, no touching, reporting suspicious people and cases and many more…,” one placard at the Island Clinic read.
"It has been a terrible time in our country. I'm grateful to God, who I believe brought us back to normality,” James Kaiwor, told the Daily Observer in an interview.
Four Months Hazard Package for
Private Medical Facilities
In spicing up the Ebola Freedom Day celebration for Healthcare givers, Health Minister-designate, Dr. Bernice Dahn told jubilant medical practitioners that President Sirleaf has approved a four- month hazard payment package for all private institutions across the country.
The Minister Designate’s statement was reechoed by President Sirleaf at the ELWA and Catholic hospitals.
Liberia Now Safe, Foreign Partners Can Now Return
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Ngafuan said,“It is now time for us to tell the international community and some of our friends who left the country, that we are now safe and they can now return.”
He noted that it was disheartening to have seen the affected countries being isolated, especially by their African brothers and sisters.
African Leaders Expected Today
The Liberian government is today expecting a number of African leaders, including the Nigerian leader, President Muhammadu Buhari, to grace the formal celebration of the end of Ebola in the country.