President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says that "A Friend In Need Is a Friend In Deed" in expressing Liberia's appreciation for the generous gesture of medical assistance given to us by the People's Republic of China (PRC) in the fight against the Ebola virus. The quotation is very apt as recognition of a noble act of generosity and solidarity. As a citizen of Liberia, I have no doubt that I am expressing the sentiments of all Liberians in echoing the President's statement. The quoted sentiment is an expression of our profound gratitude in this time of crisis by a friendly nation with whom we share very cordial relations and which has been very helpful to us in many ways in the past. Beginning in March of this year, at the outbreak of the first round of the Ebola virus, the government of the People's Republic of China donated medical supplies valued at $160,000 to help combat the spread of the virus. At the same time, Chinese companies in Liberia donated $20,000 to communities engaged in fighting the epidemic. Since then the Chinese Ambassador has remained appraised of the situation. As a result, his government has very recently donated a cargo plane load of more medical supplies valued at $1.7 million to beef up the intensified efforts at stemming the spread of the virus and for treating those diagnosed as infected.
This batch of supplies and other items include medical instruments, non-contact infrared thermometers, medical equipments, sanitizers, disinfectants and medicine. In addition, three Chinese Public Health experts, mostly epidemiologists, arrived on the 13th of August and followed by another batch of three medical experts who arrived on the 16th of August to join the team of other experts already in the country.
At the delivery of the consignment of the much needed aid, China Ambassador ZHANG Yue read a message to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf expressing the deep sympathy and solidarity of the government of the People's Republic of China. He emphasized that the PRC and the people of Liberia stand together in this crisis and in furthering the good and friendly relations that already exist between our two nations. President Sirleaf thanked the Ambassador and the government of the PRC from the bottom of her heart.
The President and the Ambassador later visited the isolation clinics in Monrovia for the purpose of seeing first hand those afflicted with the virus. The Ambassador then promised further aid to fight the disease.
It needs to be mentioned that the PRC also delivered similar aid to Sierra Leone and Guinea, the other affected countries.
The action of the government and people of the PRC has touched the hearts of all the people of Liberia who are sincerely grateful and feel deeply indebted for the generous and thoughtful gifts. We will live to remember this gesture of friendship and hope to have occasion, though not in similar circumstances, to repay the kindness.
In the main time, however, the virus appears to be spreading. According to recent count, 525 people are said to have died while more than 20 have recovered from the affliction. WHO has reported that close to 2,225 cases have been reported for the affected countries, of these 1,235 are reported to have died. WHO and Doctors Without Borders went on to say that the virus is spreading at a faster rate than had been believed and that the potential for the spread had been underestimated. As a measure to stop the spread, WHO advises that the four affected countries screen all departures from international airports, seaports, and land border crossing to prevent the spread of the virus.
The Cameroon has closed its border with Nigeria and Ghana postponing all international conferences to be held there. The Ivory Coast is stimulating response exercises in case of an outbreak; South Africa has just announced that it is closing its borders to citizens of the affected countries in West Africa; Senegal has closed its borders to Guinea; and Chad has closed its borders to Nigeria.
More and more attention is being paid to the potential of the epidemic spreading beyond the borders of the four affected countries. The United Nations has requested $1.8million as assistance to the affected countries and a senior official of the UN is soon to visit these countries.
These concerns of our international partners are because the Ebola epidemic is going to have socio-economic effects beyond the boundaries of the currently affected countries. For instance, South Africa tourist trade has suffered a drastic decline recently because of the virus. People are reluctant to risk coming to Africa even though South Africa is well removed from West Africa. Last year ten million tourists were reported to have visited South Africa many of them Asians. This year the number of visitors is drastically reduced because people tend to see Africa as one country rather than a continent made up of countries.
There is some talk of developing a vaccine or antigen to defend and protect against the virus respectively. The efforts are at an early stage, however. It is expected to take some time to produce substantial quantities of these to make a difference in curbing the spread of the disease – as explorative antidote is being experimentally tested on a couple of patients who return from Liberia to Atlanta, Georgia, USA. There is as yet no conclusive observation of the effect of this drug. However, the two patient doctors have now been released from hospital and fully recovered.
Here at home the situation is being followed meticulously and aggressively. Action is being taken to bring matters under control. The areas reported to be most affected by the virus are in the northern part of the country.
The awareness campaign is being waged intensively and more and more people are beginning to grasp the gravity of the epidemic. They seem to be understanding for some of the extraordinary measures that have been taken.
Clashes with the police erupted when it was announced that the West Point area will be quarantined by some of the inhabitants of the community who woke up to find themselves barricaded by the security personnel. This clash led to a panic that reached the commercial areas of the city where the stores belonging to Lebanese are mostly located. The shopkeepers closed their stores for fear of looting.
It is difficult to understand why some people will choose to act so recklessly in the face of this momentous challenge. There are those who are unwilling to accept the existence of the epidemic and would like to make a political issue out of it. They seem to want to undermine the efforts of the government so as to find reason to blame it for what, one hardly knows.
No doubt, there are those who simply out of ignorance show reluctant to abide by the restriction imposed. With these I sympathize but even they must be brought to realize the national danger posed by the virus.
We need to let the entertainment/video club places take the danger seriously by avoiding large gatherings particularly during the season of the Premier football League in London. Incidentally, a curfew has been imposed between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m to make sure that the lawlessness and callous disregard of public safety witness at West Point isolation center is not repeated. This will also take care of the problem of the large gatherings at the video clubs.
The imposition of a curfew is definitely justified under the circumstances. It will enable the policing of the country during the night and early hours when the likelihood of the outbreak of disturbances similar to the ones recently observed at West Point is high.
The decision to quarantine certain localities is equally necessary, if there is reason to believe that the incident or potential for infection is reasonably high in these places. Stringent security is required for policing these localities.
However, steps must also be taken to ensure that the basic daily needs of the residence can be met without their having to leave the vicinity. Suggested is the setting up of an Ebola Control Administrative Agency with a central office in Monrovia and branch offices in each location that is quarantined. The function of the branch offices within the quarantined locations will be to order and store when necessary the basic necessities not available in stores or at markets within the localities. The residents could be asked to order their purchases through the office in their locality. Where there are stores for market the proprietors should be able to make orders of wares that are demanded by the residents. All of these require discipline — social discipline, without which it will be very difficult to stop the virus.
Finally, after all that is happening we must be grateful to our Chinese friends for urgently delivering a consignment of epidemic preventive materials conducive to contain the Ebola virus and our other international partners for their continuous support and assistance, as well as health workers for their selfless devotion to duty.
Let us now unite as a people, whatever our differences to wage a relentless war on this epidemic.