The deadly Ebola virus hit Liberia and two other nations in the Mano River Basin, Guinea and Sierra Leone, like a thunderbolt. Yes, it came every bit like a thunderbolt—something that, according to Webster, “resembles lightening in suddenness, effectiveness and destructive power.”
Ebola, totally unknown to West Africa, took these three nations by surprise and its manifest destructive power reverberated everywhere, killing 8000 people in the worst case of the virus ever recorded.
This menacing tragedy immediately exposed the total weakness of the healthcare delivery systems in each country. Liberia, for one, was suddenly caught with its pants down, its healthcare delivery nakedness exposed.
So monstrously devastating was the virus, especially in Liberia, that we soon claimed the most Ebola dead in history. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, wrote a letter to President Barrack Obama of the United States appealing for emergency relief. A Daily Observer cartoon captured the President sitting helplessly and desperately in the middle of the ocean dispatching an SOS call to the American leader.
It is to his credit and to our good fortune that President Obama responded immediately and decisively, dispatching at once a 3000-strong military contingent to Liberia. The minute they got here they began assessing the situation and started putting up Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs) in many parts of the country.
But long before the Americans’ arrival, Liberian physicians, nurses, and other paramedics, backed by a number of emergency response agencies, including Doctors Without Borders and Samaritan’s Purse, created make-shift ETUs and received scores of confirmed and suspected Ebola patients, working around the clock to help them survive the deadly virus.
Many patients also found their way to the John F. Kennedy Medical Center (JFK) where ill-prepared doctors and nurses started treating them—ill-prepared because they lacked the personal protective equipment (PPEs) to shield themselves from contracting the virus from their patients. One of the early fatal manifestations of this was Dr. Samuel Brisbane, one of Liberia’s most senior physicians. Dedicatedly treating his patients at the JFK, he, too, caught the virus and was admitted to the ELWA-2 ETU, where he subsequently died, paying the supreme sacrifice in service to humanity.
But the very first casualty was a health worker in the Foya clinic in Lofa County. This was followed by Dr. Sam Mutooro Muhumuza a Ugandan physician working at Redemption Hospital in Monrovia. While President Sirleaf was decorating Dr. Mutooro posthumously, Dr. Brisbane became, on Liberia’s Independence Day, the next casualty. Next came Dr. Brisbane’s JFK colleague, Dr. Abraham Borbor, then Dr. Thomas S. Scotland, just out of the University of Liberia’s A.M. Dogliotti College of Medicine.
We also lost a Cameroonian physician, Dr. Bro. Patrick Nshamdze, along with a nurse from Equitorial Guinea and a priest, Fr. Miguel Pazirres of Spain—all of the St. Joseph Catholic Hospital in Monrovia. St. Joseph alone lost nine persons, including a number of Liberian nurses.
By God’s grace and the generous assistance of many of Liberia’s development partners, who contributed PPEs, medicines, food, fluids, beds, mattresses and other vital supplies, hundreds of other doctors, nurses and paramedics fought bravely on, succeeding in actually curing Ebola patients by the hundreds.
Today, most of the ETUs are either empty or have only a few patients. One such ETU is located at the Unity Conference Center in Virginia, which is manned by a 33 year-old physician, Dr. Jonathan Hart who, just out of medical school, admitted 17 Ebola patients, of whom he succeeded in curing 12! Among the five remaining, three are Ebola confirmed and two suspected.
It is these brave and dedicated health and medical warriors—those departed and those who are still battling the virus—that we honor today.
Because of their sacrifice, the generous assistance of our development partners and the cooperation of the Liberian people in obeying the preventive health measures, the virus is fast receding in Liberia. We pray that the government will begin closely monitoring our borders to prevent the virus from crossing again into Liberia.
In closing, we say Bravo and Thank You to our stalwart Medical and Health Workers and all the local and international partners who have led us in defeating the virus so far. May they continue their struggle and may all Liberians and residents also play our part by continuing to follow all the preventive measures until Liberia is one day soon declared Ebola free.