The Impact of Ebola in Liberia and Its Post Recovery Challenges

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Jeremiah Sulunteh_web.jpg

Salutation/ Introduction:

Thank you Dr. Contis for your kind introduction.  The people of Liberia are grateful for the work your organization has conducted to strengthen Liberia’s health care system and the support of the American people as Liberia struggles to recover from the devastating impact of Ebola.

Thank you Dr. Betancourt, The Universal Peace Federation and The Washington Times for the invitation and the opportunity to inform members of the global community about the health and development challenges that Liberia and the neighboring countries of Guinea and Sierra Leone are struggling to overcome.

Congressman Williams, on behalf of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the government and people of Liberia,  we thank the United States and your generous support through the deployment of U.S. military personnel from your Congressional district to construct 17 (100-bed containment units), as well as the other work US military personnel are doing to strengthen the health infrastructure in Liberia. We are also profoundly indebted to the private sector, the public health community, and humanitarian organizations for their assistance.

 Distinguished invited guests,

Liberia has come a long way; a small country on the West Coast of Africa, just about the size of the State of Ohio. Founded by freed American slaves in 1822, Liberia continues to enjoy a historic relations with the United States. In fact, the United States remains the most important development partner of Liberia.

Since March 2014, nearly every hour the media has reported increasingly grim details about the fierce threat and devastating impact of Ebola.  The World Health Organization has estimated that Ebola will affect 1.4 million lives, if proper corrective measures were not instituted.  While we do not doubt the WHO estimate, we do know that the impact of the disease is not just measured in human lives.  The Ebola outbreak has a variety of consequences – and unfortunately – all of them are grim – and some of them will even be felt by those participating in this forum.

One of my most important concerns as Liberia’s diplomatic representative to the United States is that we must control the panic factor to prevent Liberia from becoming forever dependent on the donor community and to encourage the private sector to not lose faith in our ability to be investment worthy.

Prior to the outbreak of Ebola, there were only 50 medical doctors in Liberia, a few dentists and one psychiatrist for the entire population of 4.1 million people.  A 14-year-civil war destroyed the country and devastated its infrastructure and claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people, displaced about one million of its citizens. The country experienced a huge brain drain. Therefore, when the deadly Ebola virus hit Liberia, our system was overwhelmed and could not contain the virus and stop its spread.

The Ebola virus disease has claimed the lives of 2,800 people, including 131 healthcare workers, leaving about 3,000 orphans behind and about 5,000 currently infected.  We applaud the support of the United States and the international community, and should like to report of a recent decline in the outbreak of new cases. We, however, like to reiterate that much more is needed to be done to eradicate the virus.

Therefore, a compelling case can be made for an accelerated international response to eliminate Ebola by working with us to rebuild our health infrastructure, provide critical supplies and health services (including the further development  of a vaccine), and as important – by investing in systems and sectors to ensure economic stability and security for Liberia and the region.

Friends of Liberia and our dear partners, since the end of the civil war, Liberia has been making steady progress towards economic resurgence. Liberia was beginning to be regarded as a post-conflict success story in Africa, consolidating its peace and democracy.  Political stability created the enabling environment for foreign investment in iron ore, maritime, rubber industry, tourism, and construction of ocean front resorts, as well as, infrastructure (particularly telecommunications and energy).

Unfortunately, Ebola – and its wide ranging multi-sector impact, has plunged Liberia into limbo, both in terms of economic development and geo-political insecurity.  In 2013, Liberia was among the top 10 countries with the highest GDP growth rate. Its GDP was expected to grow by 5.9% in 2014, but the expected gain has been reversed to 2.5%.

In addition to the enormous and tragic loss of human life, the Ebola epidemic is having devastating effects on the Liberian economy in a variety of essential sectors by halting trade, hurting agriculture and scaring investors. For example:

a) Agriculture accounts for 39% of Liberia's GDP. Disruptions from the outbreak will result in diminishing yields of Liberia's staple food, such as rice and cassava. Prices of these commodities are already increasing exponentially. Such shocks will push inflation to 13% from 7% prior to the Ebola outbreak.

b) Mining activity, which constitutes 14% of the economy is decreasing. China Union and ArcelorMittal are scaling down iron ore mining.

 c) Fiscal revenues will decline as limited economic activity reduces revenues from taxes, tariffs and custom duties. At the same time, to resolve the crisis and meet health and security needs of the people, government expenditure will increase, with a short-term fiscal impact of $93 million or 4.7% of GDP.

Dear friends of Liberia,

I have come here therefore, to gain the support that is essential to redevelop Liberia and restore its future.  Liberians are a resilient people – with help they can make it happen. While our immediate focus is on the eradication of the Ebola virus disease, we are equally concerned about post-Ebola recovery programs.

These are the reasons that international aid must be sustained and new investment made for the growth and survival of Liberia:

  • Ebola has made Liberia and the region vulnerable to bio-terrorism.  We have witnessed how bio-terrorism has undermined the security in other parts of the world.
  • The Liberian family, ordinarily strong, responsible, and vibrant, has broken down.  Wage earners have lost their lives.  Children with no extended family are orphaned.  International human traffickers are preying on those women and children without the capacity to maintain themselves or lack of access to the few services currently available to assist them with this life transition.
  • The infrastructure, particularly electricity, is not reliable and operates only a few hours each day, at a rate of 54 cents per kilo watt hour; perhaps, the highest in the world. Investment in solar energy to reduce the strain on the country’s power grid is essential in order to adequately support the containment units being built and restore Liberia’s business community. 
  • It is critical that Liberia and its neighboring countries develop the capacity to prevent future epidemics.  Failure to implement a comprehensive strategy to provide effective prevention mechanisms and life saving care not only helps to reduce deaths but ensures the confidence of the population that their government values human life and their family and the prosperity of the country.

With continued help from the United States, people like you, and the donor community, frustration and civil disobedience and outside agitation will be stemmed. 

          Finally, ladies and gentlemen, friends of Liberia, the take away message today is that:

  • We are not asking you to feel sorry for Liberia or to view it as a “basket case”.  We are asking you to believe in Liberia and value its history as an important U.S. ally
  • We are asking you to realize that unless the Ebola virus gets under control, the country is vulnerable for violence and discontent – and if that in fact occurs the country is destined for generations of poverty and will be ripe for crisis.
  • If just every third person in this room is willing to contribute even one box of medical gloves, and companies take a risk with us to invest in Liberia’s private sector, the next time I address you I will be presenting a positive, encouraging report on Liberia’s resurgence.

           Thank you for being concerned enough about this crisis to attend today. 

Authors

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