The first case of Ebola reported in Liberia this past March was the start of a devastating chapter in our country’s history. However, we are seeing glimmers of hope as we turn to 2015, with the rate of infection beginning to show signs of slowing in Liberia. In the face of this deadly crisis, the senatorial elections are moving forward this Saturday, and with it I’m optimistic that we can start the New Year on the right path to a peaceful, strong democracy and a nation free of Ebola.
Thus far, great strides have been made to end Ebola. US troops built mobile labs that have reduced the time that it takes to process blood samples from three days down to three hours. The 17 mobile labs and health units travel to remote areas to test and treat patients as well as train more than 500 people per month on Ebola prevention.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has opened six treatments centers and will open an additional 23 across Liberia in the New Year. International SOS reported that, as of December 1, 2014, Liberia had 1,269 beds in 12 treatment centers, nearly doubling the number of beds that were operational the week before. As a result, new cases are on the decline, confirmed by a decrease in laboratory confirmed cases and burials, according to the WHO.
The Economist has reported that superstitions about Ebola also are beginning to subside, thanks to education and community coordination, especially from the Ebola survivors who have been sharing their story of treatment and survival. At the same time, hand washing with diluted bleach has become common practice, and people are finding creative ways to greet each other without transferring germs through a handshake.
These developments make me cautiously optimistic, and I’m made more so by news of potential financial relief. Just last week, Carlos Lopez, the UN under secretary-general and the executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, appealed for debt forgiveness for Liberia to minimize the financial stress brought about by Ebola. I strongly urge the financial community to heed this call for relief in order to prevent a financial collapse in a country already struggling to stay afloat.
Debt forgiveness will allow Liberia to heal. It will allow Liberia to invest in and reconstruct its hospitals and medical facilities, train new health care workers and provide health centers with supplies and equipment vital to Liberians’ health and the health of our nation. We can build new wells so that all Liberians can drink clean, safe water. We can build better roads to transport goods and services. These infrastructural initiatives will restart the Liberian economy and provide much needed jobs to our citizens.
But before we can look to this future, we must first turn to the second order effects that the Ebola crisis has had on our society. Food prices have gone up and we must act now to avoid a full-blown food crisis. Currently US troops are working with the World Food Program to coordinate food and medical supply distribution to remote areas in Liberia, as well as to train Liberians on warehouse operations and issuing, storage and handling resupplies.
I am hopeful with the progress we’ve made and grateful for the assistance given by the international community, but I would like to remind the Liberian leadership that Ebola eradication is dependent upon an honest, transparent and fully committed government effort. It is our responsibility to make the change we seek.
With Saturday’s upcoming election, I hope that the best candidates are chosen, despite President Sirleaf’s executive order to prohibit political rallies. This decision has significantly impeded the democratic process by blocking the easiest means for many Liberians to learn about candidate platforms. The right to assemble is essential to democracy, and I fear that Ebola may have become a convenient excuse to subdue the voice of the people.
Nevertheless, I hope Liberia’s senatorial elections this weekend will be symbolic of the country’s ability to maintain a peaceful and democratic vision in a time of crisis. I ask that our candidates and our citizens refrain from violence to show the world the Liberia we wish to be.
Despite the daunting issues confronting Liberia, I know that Liberians will find renewed strength in the fight to eradicate Ebola and will work together to remove roadblocks to democracy and development in our country. Please join me in taking the time to reflect on the past year and lend hope to new beginnings in 2015. Together we can create a new Liberia in 2015 and beyond.
Jones Nhinson Williams, The New Liberia Foundation