Community Leadership is the Answer to Protect Liberia from Ebola – By Jones Nhinson Williams, The New Liberia Foundation

Ebola (EVD) has taken the lives of 117 of our fellow Liberians and over 600 of our neighbors in Guinea and Sierra Leone so far. Despite intense coordination among our countries with the World Health Organization (WHO), cases are still increasing.

I thank the WHO and the presidents of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia for gathering to launch a $100 million emergency response. It’s times like these that we need to come together as Liberians, Africans and the international community to work in unison. But as we learned, we are not doing a good enough job educating our people.

Across the region, health workers educating villages have been chased out of towns, patients scared of their fate have escaped treatment facilities, and citizens are frightened to go to the health facility because they don’t trust the doctors, blaming them for bringing this disease. In Sierra Leone, police have had to use tear gas to calm protesting mobs outside of a hospital.

Our people are scared, and we need to do a better job of communicating to them that doctors, health workers, and the international community are here to help prevent this deadly, but preventable, disease. Just yesterday a doctor from Uganda named Dr. Sam Mokoro died of Ebola himself at the John F. Kennedy Hospital in his fight to keep his fellow brethren safe. They are unsung heroes, not threats, and in their memory we need to fight harder.

We need Liberians to know how to protect themselves and their families, and we will only reach them through their trusted and respected leaders. I ask that the Ministries of Health develop a strategy to reach community leaders, religious leaders, and esteemed elders to help spread our message. I ask that if you are one of those leaders, that you heed this message.

We need these trusted community leaders to tell people to stay calm. To protect yourself and those you love by going to your local health facility when symptoms arise such as fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat followed by vomiting and diarrhea. Ebola is spread by bodily fluids so you can’t catch it unless you come in close contact with someone who has the disease. WHO suggests avoiding contact with those showing symptoms, but to otherwise go on with life as normal.

My Liberian sisters and brothers need to know that the Ministry of Health’s Task Force has been hard at work making sure that we keep Liberia safe. You can trust our health workers and those from the international community to give you the best information on the disease and conduct safe, effective testing to give you the peace of mind that you are virus-free.

We can protect Liberia if we work together. It will start by spreading the word so that we don’t spread the disease. Our community leaders are the only ones that are going to be able to help us do that as our health workers fight to contain this disease. My prayers continue to be with the families of those we have lost.

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