The Government of Liberia is not taking lightly what it sees as the ostracizing of the three nations affected by the Ebola virus — Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Addressing foreign newsmen over the weekend, Liberia’s Foreign Minister, Augustine K. Ngafuan, recalled a time “when certain African nations were ravaged by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.” Liberia, he said, did not shut its doors for fear of contagion.
The Foreign Minister could only have been referring to one nation — South Africa — the latest African nation to close its borders to passengers traveling from the Mano River Union.
Ngafuan also reminded newsmen that the Ebola virus used to be known as an East African disease before it suddenly surfaced in the West African rainforest.
“As we speak,” he pointed out, “it has gone right back to Zaire. Who knows where it will go next?”
Ngafuan said while it is understandable that countries not affected by the Ebola outbreak may take measures to protect their citizens, they should heed the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations which do not support travel or trade restrictions on Liberia and other countries hit by the Ebola virus.
The WHO has been emphatic in its warning against the imposition of air and sea restrictions: “If you try to shut down air travel and sea travel, you risk affecting to a huge extent the economy, people’s livelihoods and their ability to get around without stopping the virus from traveling. You can’t ship goods in. Sometimes these goods are basic staples people need to survive — food and fuel,” said WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl.
The WHO further emphasized that official border closures would constrain resources to address the epidemic and would not stop all means of travel outside of affected areas.
“In these difficult moments in our countries,” Ngafuan asserted, “we expect our African brothers and sisters across the globe to take actions that will complement measures already undertaken by the affected countries with a view to speedily eradicating the disease. Actions grounded primarily in paranoia may, instead of aiding affected countries, lead to blanket stigmatization of citizens from these countries and may make it doubly difficult for affected countries to effectively combat the Ebola disease.”
The Foreign Minister commended the African Union (AU), which is expected to soon dispatch a military medical personnel team to Ebola affected countries including Liberia. The AU team is expected to comprise doctors, professional nurses, infection control officers, social workers, medical data management experts, among others.
While commending all countries, institutions, and individuals that have contributed towards the fight against the Ebola disease in Liberia and other affected countries, Minister Ngafuan also commended all African countries that have already contributed or communicated intentions to contribute to the fight against the disease.
He made specific mention of the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which has already dispatched a five-member team of medical experts to Liberia. He also commended the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for committing US$500,000 to aid Liberia’s fight against the deadly virus. The Government of the Kingdom of Morocco also rceived commendation for continuing flights of Royal Air Maroc (the Moroccan national carrier) to Monrovia and Freetown.
The Foreign Minister was not the only Liberian official to register his disappointment with the isolation of the affected nations. Information Minister, Lewis Brown, addressing newsmen in Monrovia Tuesday, also recalled a time when Liberia came to the aid of other countries.
“Many of those who have now isolated Liberia have benefited from its friendship in the past. When the world found it fashionable and acceptable to ostracize them, Liberia welcomed them and was despised for it. But we were proud of what we were able to do for them.”
Minister Brown, too, could only have been referring to South Africa, during whose apartheid struggle many comrades (including Nelson Mandela) traveled on Liberian passports and took refuge here.
For other countries to isolate Liberia — rejecting ships that have docked in Liberia, canceling flights and shutting down businesses — is “unfair, unjust and un-African,” Brown contended. Even close neighbors, Brown said, have turned their backs on Liberia.
Ivory Coast, Liberia’s neighbor to the east which still has refugees in Liberia since its civil conflict a few years ago, rejected a vessel that had docked at the Freeport of Monrovia.
Regional airlines such as Gambia Bird, Ghana Airways and Arik Air have halted flights to Monrovia in the wake of th outbreak of the Ebola virus, as have international carriers. British Airways has suspended flights to Monrovia. Delta’s flights will be suspended as of August 31. SN Brussels had recently suspended its service to Liberia because landing in Liberia would have caused other countries to reject the Belgian carrier. The airline announced later Tuesday night that it had sorted out the issue, and that flights would resume Thursday, August 28.
“How do we get the supplies we need?” Brown wondered. “Aid workers coming in to help us are coming from afar. They also come in rotations. He described the isolation of the Mano River Union as being “against the African spirit and that of African solidarity”, but nonetheless expressed the confidence that Liberia would weather this storm as it has others.