Liberia is currently struggling to survive Ebola. Government has spent about US$5 million to combat this disease that continues to claim more lives each day. Many local people and institutions as well as International partners and foreign countries have come in to help, but this is far from enough.
How did Ebola enter West Africa and Liberia? Why has it rapidly spread and overwhelmed the Government’s capacity?
President Barack Obama has attributed the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to the poor health systems in the affected countries.
Dr. Tom Frieden, Director for the Center for Disease Control (CDC), concurred. That is why he has predicted, “It will get worse before it gets better.”
Part of the poor health systems are the stockpiles of garbage seen almost everywhere in Liberian cities, most especially Monrovia. Also, the majority of houses in Monrovia and other cities and towns lack toilet and bathroom facilities. People often wait for the night hours to bathe and toilet, or they defecate in the black plastic bags to throw over houses at night. Insane and homeless people defecate in the streets and the waste is swept away to other places by tires of vehicles.
Amidst all these disastrous health conditions, street sellers too, continue to sell food, raw and cooked food, in unsanitary surroundings. Littering is a Liberian cultural habit. When people buy bananas, peanuts, bags of water or any foods placed in plastic or paper, they drop the trash anywhere.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses was meticulous in His rules to His servants as to how they should behave in society. These included the rules of sanitation. In the Book of Deuteronomy, 23:12-13: God told Moses, Thou shalt have a place also without the camp … And thou shalt have a paddle upon thou weapon, and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee. 14: For the LORD thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp, to deliver thee . . .; therefore shall thy camp be holy; that He see no unclean thing in thee, and turn away from thee.”
This is a clear indication that God attaches seriousness to sanitation. But in Liberia, we have gone contrary to that God-given rule. The Daily Observer once urged a Minister of Health to make sure that that Minister paid keen attention to sanitation. The Minister’s response was disheartening as it was alarming: “I did not become Minister of Health to clean anyone’s backyard.”
Yet, in the 1960s under President Tubman, that office was called the Department of Health and Sanitation; and its “Sanitary Inspectors” that went about ensuring cleanliness and spraying DDT in neighborhoods to fight malaria by killing mosquitoes.
Today, Ebola has overtaken us and we bear the worst casualties. This is partly due to poor sanitation. And that includes the lack of toilets around the country and even in Monrovia.
Another problem was government’s failure to close the border with Guinea immediately following the outbreak of the disease there last March. Some argued against this because they said Liberia imported food from Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire and border closure would undermine this. But since this government came to power in 2006 this newspaper, the Daily Observer, has been pleading with GOL to take AGRICULTURE MORE SERIOUSLY. Here we are, nine years later, still importing pepper, bitter ball and tomatoes, when we have the identical soil as they, and even better rainfall because of our forests.
We have disobeyed God’s sanitation rules, and this has now exacerbated the Ebola problem. We have also failed to make good use of the innumerable blessings God has given us. Our most important resource, our people, we have failed to educate, train and encourage; but are hell bent on encouraging foreigners over Liberians. We have consistently given away to foreigners our natural resources—our land, our gold, diamond, iron ore and now our petroleum, without any Liberian participation.
We have thus left ourselves bare and now have to return to dependency and ask others to help us in our distress. But let us remember that dependency breeds more loss of resources, for nobody gives anything for nothing.
When, by God’s grace, we overcome this Ebola crisis, Liberia and Liberians will need to start doing everything differently. We need to start developing a THINK TANK of intelligent, well organized and patriotic people to help us chart a more constructive and brighter future for ourselves and our posterity.