It’s been more than two years now since the World Health Organization declared the Ebola crisis in West Africa an international public health emergency.
After losing 4,800 people to the disease, trialling an experimental Ebola vaccine and finally getting rid of the virus, Liberia has learned many lessons and is now on the road to recovery. Two perspectives on the outbreak illustrate how far they have come.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia
“Without a doubt, the outbreak has had a profound effect on our nation beyond the individual lives affected and taken by this dreadful disease. In the wake of 30 years of civil and political turmoil, Ebola challenged much of the progress we had made in rebuilding the country, leaving Liberia in a weakened state. Our health systems and infrastructure had nearly collapsed, we now have a desperate shortage of health workers, and it will take years for our economy to recover. And yet, despite such challenges, I believe we are indeed now better prepared to cope if Ebola does once again rear its ugly head, thanks largely to the strength of our people.
Liberia is a resilient nation and in our time of need, its people rallied. By performing brave and selfless acts in the face of a terrifying threat—as first responders, frontline health workers and contact tracers, among others—our communities stopped the spread of the disease. And now it is this same spirit that will protect us moving forward. By working together, we have already demonstrated that we can respond quickly and effectively to contain any new flare-ups. Liberia has not yet quite risen from the ashes, but as our nation continues to rebuild, we have grown stronger in many ways.”
Emmanuel Lasanah, Ebola contact tracer
“At the peak of Ebola, Redemption Hospital suffered a heavy blow and health services collapsed. The medical director responsible for the hospital died of Ebola. We had nurses, physician assistants, nurse aids, medical doctors dying from Ebola. It was quite terrifying. Everyone was afraid and ran away. But I was still available. So I thought that the best thing I could do was to help my country; I had the knowledge for contact tracing. Let me use this, instead of sitting and being afraid. So I volunteered to take the lead.
The decision to be the first to take the Ebola study vaccine was made when suddenly I started thinking back on the number of family members, the number of friends, the number of health workers, the number of community persons that died from Ebola. I knew that I was exposed because I was doing contact tracing. I was afraid because I didn’t know what the effects of the vaccine would have been, but I decided that I needed to take part in this study to benefit. Seeing as I took the lead on contact tracing I also wanted to take the lead for the Ebola vaccine, even though this was a study. Since I took it I’ve been feeling very well. I am so grateful.”