On November 16th the world community observed the 19th International Day for Tolerance. While we are reminded of the security and human rights implications of intolerance which also take the form of stigma and discrimination. This day also provides an opportunity to highlight the vital contribution of tolerance and acceptance to achieving important public health objectives and impact, especially focusing on groups living on the margins of many societies, including those communities currently in the grips of the Ebola virus in West Africa.
The U.S. Government is proud to partner with the people and government of Liberia to implement President Barack Obama’s ‘whole of government’ approach to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. The United States has been engaged in fighting the Ebola outbreak since the first cases were reported in March and has since deployed almost 2250 U.S. government personnel to West Africa, making this the largest-ever U.S. government response to a global health crisis.
Thus far our efforts have helped increase the number of Ebola treatment units (ETU) in the region, increased the number of safe burial teams to 65, which are now working across every county in Liberia to safely and respectfully remove and bury bodies and we have expanded the pipeline of medical equipment and supplies in the region, airlifting more than 250 tons of personal protective equipment, infrared thermometers and chlorine. The United States has deployed and commenced operation of mobile Ebola testing labs in Liberia, reducing the time needed to determine if a patient has Ebola from several days to just a few hours. Additionally, the Monrovia Medical Unit (MMU) this week received the first two health care workers who are infected with the Ebola virus, both Liberian.
But while the whole of the United States Government is working with the Government of Liberia and many other partners to contain the threat of Ebola, the tolerance that Liberians extend to each other will be critical to continued success in diagnosing, containing, and treating Ebola patients, and moving Liberia towards a post-Ebola era.
Tolerance requires treating everyone, even those who are different, with dignity and respect. In the case of Ebola, this challenge will be a global one. Tolerance is needed for Ebola survivors, as well as health care workers treating Ebola patients and members of burial teams, many of whom have been ostracized by their families and communities.
Countries whose citizens have so generously donated their time and talent working as clinicians, medical volunteers, engineers and aid workers, must work to combat the view that these healthy individuals are tainted for simply having worked in proximity, or even visited a nation touched by Ebola.
Let us reaffirm that all individuals, whether they are Ebola patients, survivors, clinicians, lab specialists, nurses, doctors, burial teams, family members or aid workers should be free from the stigma that this, or any other disease, might carry with it, and instead should be treated with dignity and respect.
I call on all our partners in the shared mission to fight the spread of the Ebola virus in Liberia to practice tolerance in all aspects of service delivery. The goal of an Ebola-free Liberia will remain unfulfilled until every Liberian feels that he or she will be treated with tolerance and respect when seeking services to preserve his/her health if already infected, to protect themselves from becoming infected or to provide assistance and care to those seeking treatment.
Join me in urging everyone to practice tolerance and respect of others not just to mark the International Day of Tolerance but every day of the year so that we may work together for the goal we all hope for: a post-Ebola Liberia that is prosperous, vibrant and healthy.