Saturday, May 9, 2015
Today, it is with profound relief and deep gratitude that we receive the official announcement from the World Health Organization that Liberia is Ebola free. For a country and a people that suffered through such trauma at the hands of this vile disease, this announcement is an important moment for all Liberians. For many months, we remained cautiously optimistic that this time would come. Our hopes, it seems, were well founded.
Even as we receive this exciting news, we know that we must remain vigilant. Especially with our improved surveillance and community alert programs, we now have the capacity to deal quickly with any new cases, should they emerge. And we are confident that our friends in Sierra Leone and Guinea will soon rid their countries of this disease also. The truth is that we share their ongoing anguish, and know that we must rebuild together as neighbors.
But as we now look forward, we must never forget what we have witnessed. For the last year, our country, and our Mano River Union Sub-region, has endured a dark chapter in its history. From what started as a single case of Ebola in a forested area in Guinea, an unprecedented outbreak soon took hold throughout our three countries.
It rapidly became the deadliest outbreak of Ebola since its discovery in 1976. For Liberia, a country that had only emerged from a destructive civil war a decade ago, the rapid spread of Ebola became a crushing blow to the recovering hopes of a nation that was embarking on a new peaceful and prosperous journey.
The scenes of overflowing treatment centers in Monrovia, of schools and borders closed and aircraft grounded, will live long in the memory.
Clearly, the events of the last year must never be forgotten. At this symbolic juncture, I ask the whole world to remember the 4,608 Liberians who lost their lives, and the many thousands more who endured the horror of fighting the disease.
Each death tells a tragic story: A mother prevented from being with her children during her last moments. Children watching as relatives are carried from their family homes, placed in trucks, never to be seen again – the dignity of a burial, as they know it, and a last goodbye were too often denied them.
Young Liberians, who only months before strode confidently to school with dreams of a future as an engineer, a teacher or a doctor, all of which Liberia desperately needs, had their lives mercilessly cut short. Across West Africa, families have been torn apart, and orphans left to fend for themselves. Whole communities will never be the same again.
We have lost good people – brave, hardworking and decent people – many of whom simply wanted to help a family member, a friend, and a neighbor who was in need. Whether they were farmers, market traders, teachers, students or health workers, each life was worth as much as the last and each loss is a tragedy. Their memories will live with us forever. And as a member of a global community, we ask that we never forget them.
Despite these dark times, in profound ways, we also embrace the stories of humanity and bravery that have emerged from this crisis. And so we thank the local volunteers who risked their lives to treat others, even when protective equipment was running short. 192 healthcare workers made the ultimate sacrifice during the last year. They are nothing less than heroes and heroines.
We thank the local burial teams, ambulance drivers and the international organizations all of whom worked tirelessly and under unprecedented amounts of pressure and scrutiny.
To our international partners and donors, your assistance helped to save lives and to end this disaster. Truly, this was a combined effort on every level, from the local volunteers to our partners abroad. Indeed the fightback against Ebola got off to a slow start. But it demonstrated our capacity as a community of nations to focus our efforts on ending suffering, wherever it may exist, and when we are called upon to do so.
Now it is the responsibility of leaders, in Africa and abroad, in government and in the private sector, to learn from this tragedy, and work together to stop this from ever happening again.
Our public healthcare systems were simply not robust enough to deal with a problem of this scale. We now must work tirelessly to improve them. That is the long-term cure for Ebola. We owe it to the next generation, throughout the developing world, to build health infrastructure that works – health care systems that won’t leave people suffering or dying in the streets.
We have made real progress in Liberia in the last ten years. But it has not been good enough, and we must step it up. That means properly equipped hospitals, adequately trained doctors and nurses and roads good enough to transport supplies to people that need them.
So as we look forward with hope, we must reflect on what we have witnessed. This Ebola outbreak is a scar on the conscience of the world. For some, the pain and grief will take a generation to heal. Therefore, let today’s announcement be a call to arms – that we will build a better world for those Ebola could not reach; a world in which people can live in dignity and health. It is the least the memories of our dearly departed deserve.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.