Portraying the example of a selfless leader who is seeking the interests of her neighbors, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said now the challenge for her and the Liberian Government is “turning all attention to Guinea and Sierra Leone until they are Ebola free, too”.
Those sisterly nations are still reporting confirmed cases and once the virus is still present in those neighboring countries, Liberia is not totally out of the woods.
President Sirleaf made the remarks at the formal program marking the official presentation of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) statement declaring Liberia Ebola transmission free. The President highly commended everyone who helped Liberia achieve this feat. The event was held at the Centennial Memorial Pavilion in Monrovia yesterday.
She urged Liberians to join efforts to ensure that neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone are liberated from the grips of the deadly virus.
The chief guest at the celebration was Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé. Pres. Gnassingbé came along with three of his senior cabinet ministers. Ghanaian Foreign Minister Hanna Serwaa Tetteh represented President John Mahama, who is Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Among the top Liberian government officials, were Vice President Joseph Boakai and leaders of the two other branches of government, House Speaker Alex Tyler and Chief Justice Francis Korkpor. President Pro-Tempore Armah Z. Jallah was also in attendance as were Cabinet Ministers and other government officials.
Members of the diplomatic corps and representatives of bilateral and multilateral organizations in the country also graced the occasion.
After receiving praises from all the previous speakers for her strong leadership which led to the success in eradicating Ebola from Liberia, President Sirleaf declared: “Now comes the challenge of working with our two neighbors to make sure that they reach the same level of progress that we have reached.”
She said working with both nations had already begun. “It can be and is being done by taking a regional approach, reaching across borders, sharing information, experiences and talents with the Sierra Leonean and Guinean people.”
President Sirleaf reiterated that her government will intensify those efforts because until Guinea and Sierra Leone are free, totally free, we are not free. Liberians and everyone within our borders must continue being vigilant and maintain all the health protocols against the virus, she cautioned.
“We also want to start from the home front, keeping the vigilance, precautionary measures, continue the advice of the health experts and make sure that we do those simple things that we need to do,” the President admonished.
She applauded the efforts of political and community leaders, women and youth organizations, the Incident Management and the burial teams, local and international NGOs, religious and traditional leaders and the media for helping to bring the scourge to its knees.
Earlier, WHO Representative to Liberia, Dr. Alex Gasasira, read the WHO statement declaring Liberia free from Ebola virus transmission.
“Forty-two days have passed since the last laboratory-confirmed case was buried on 28 March 2015. The outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Liberia is over.
“Interruption of transmission is a monumental achievement for a country that reported the highest number of deaths in the largest, longest, and most complex outbreak since Ebola first emerged in 1976. At the peak of transmission, which occurred during August and September 2014, the country was reporting from 300 to 400 new cases every week.
During those two months, the capital city Monrovia was the setting for some of the most tragic scenes from West Africa’s outbreak: gates locked at overflowing treatment centers, patients dying on the hospital grounds, and bodies that were sometimes not collected for days.”
Dr. Gasasira recounted how flights stopped coming to Liberia for fear that passengers leaving Liberia would transport Ebola to other nations. He also stated that “fuel and food ran low. Schools, businesses, borders, markets, and most health facilities were closed. Fear and uncertainty about the future, for families, communities and the country and its economy, dominated the national mood.”
He further stated that though Monrovia and its environs were hardest hit, every one of Liberia’s 15 counties eventually reported cases.
He recalled that at one point, virtually no treatment beds for Ebola patients were available anywhere in the country. “With infectious cases and corpses remaining in homes and communities, almost guaranteeing further infections, some expressed concern that the virus might become endemic in Liberia, adding another – and especially severe – permanent threat to health.”
After reading the statement, he presented it to Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah, head of the IMS, who presented it to Health Minister Walter Gwenigale for awarding to its final recipient, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.