The internationally acclaimed, Doctors Without Borders famously known by its French interpretation, Médicins San Frontières (MSF), has warned government and its partners of possible spillovers of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease again into Liberia if stringent measures are not taken to tighten the borders with neighboring affected countries.
The MSF coordinator of the Foya Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) in Lofa County, Dr. Serge St-Louise, said if Ebola is to be contained in the country, the government must do all it can to properly monitor the movement of people, especially along the borders with Guinea and Sierra Leone, where it is being reported that the Ebola infection rates are still high.
Dr. St-Louise was addressing President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other dignitaries at the Foya ETU, where the Liberian leader had gone to assess the Ebola situation and identify with health workers who are at the forefront of the crisis.
He said Ebola Treatment Centers in neighboring communities of Guinea and Sierra Leone along the borders with Lofa, specifically Macenta and Gueckedou, were reaching their full capacities.
It was from one of these same neighboring communities that Foya, a town that shares borders with both Guinea and Sierra Leone, registered the country’s first case of the Ebola virus disease from the Guinean side in February 2014.
The virus later spread rapidly, killing hundreds in the county and thousands in the country, especially the capital, Monrovia, where it has been raging, though there has been some level of stability reported of late.
Though the borders have since been ordered closed, the measures are still not effective as trade between the bordering communities continues. This situation may have contributed to the high infection rate in the country.
Dr. St-Louise warned that although significant gains have been made, the government should take serious security measures at the border areas, aimed at preventing a recurrence of how the virus was transmitted from Guinea and later spread throughout the country.
Dr. St-Louise’s warning, came at the same time with positive reports that the infection rate of the virus in Lofa county has reduced significantly, with only six patients left in the ETU, who are to be discharged shortly.
The report indicates that Lofa County which reported the first outbreak of the deadly virus and was known as the epic-enter, has now seen a drastic decline in transmission rates with “no new cases” reported within the past three weeks.
The MSF Foya Coordinator indicated further that Lofa County could soon be declared an Ebola-free county if the pace at which the transmission has broken continues.
He identified coordination and information sharing as important tools for the total containment of the virus, adding that the Foya ETU could be used as an example of how those tools greatly helped in reaching the point of zero cases for the past weeks.
He indicated that the level of success in the county is a result of the huge support received from the community and the county’s health leadership, as well as traditional leaders.
This is something that could not come about from the onset, he acknowledged, attributing the rapid spread and numerous deaths at the initial stage to denial and cultural practices.
President Sirleaf said that she was pleased with the development in the county, which was a result of the hard work done by the international partners like MSF, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the local health team.
But she cautioned that she does not want the situation to slide back. “We want to remain vigilant and ensure that we win this fight.
“Lofa has gone through a lot. We all know that it was known as the epic-center, and many of our people lost their lives here. But they have shown their resilience and strength and have significantly overcome the virus. They are now on their way to becoming a success story. We don’t want to tell the world that we are now Ebola-free, but we can now say we are on our way,” the President declared.
Addressing the MSF Coordinator’s warning at the end of her tour, President said that government will ensure that the immigration officers vigilantly protect the borders, though she recognized that the borders are porous.
“This is a very grave concern. We have many places where people cross borders without going thru the conventional or required formalities. But we will continue to ask the Immigration officers to monitor very carefully.
“We also have to work with the leaders in Guinea and Sierra Leone. We all are leaders and we talk to each other and work together and collaborate. So we hope that on their side, as we have done on our side, we will put in proper ETUs and proper health care systems. We will encourage them to do it on their side for their people to get the same kind of good treatment that our people are receiving here, so that they, too, may be able to arrest their situations,” said President Sirleaf.
Others present at the ceremony in Foya included United States Ambassador Deborah Malac, Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams, commanding general of U.S. Army Africa, Internal Affairs Minister Morris Dukuly and Deputy Information Minister for Public Affairs, Isaac Jackson.