'It’s time for health needs to be addressed as a priority. Liberians must feel confident they can go to hospital once again and have their healthcare needs looked after'
After 42 days with no recorded cases of Ebola, Liberia has been declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization (WHO) – news that has been welcomed by the international medical organization Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
However, MSF warns that, with new cases of Ebola still being recorded in neighbouring Guinea and Sierra Leone, the outbreak is not over yet.
“For Liberia to record 42 days with zero cases of Ebola is a real milestone,” says Maria Teresa Cacciapuoti, MSF’s head of mission in Liberia. “But we can’t take our foot off the gas until all three countries record 42 days with no cases.”
'Hard work could be undone in an instant'
MSF points to the need to improve cross-border surveillance to prevent Ebola re-emerging in Liberia. “The Liberian government and the Liberian people have worked hard to help us achieve 42 days of zero Ebola cases, but that hard work could be undone in an instant,” says Cacciapuoti.
Nearly two hundred Liberian health workers died after contracting Ebola, and the epidemic decimated the country’s already fragile national health system. “It’s time for health needs to be addressed as a priority,” Cacciapuoti says. “Liberians must feel confident they can go to hospital once again and have their healthcare needs looked after. The international community must support Liberia – and Guinea and Sierra Leone – in rebuilding a strong and affordable national health system with adequate human and material resources.”
- Pushed to the Limit and Beyond: MSF on the global Ebola response one year into the deadliest outbreak in history
Weakness of health systems must be addressed
As MSF declared in Pushed to the Limit and Beyond, a report released in late March, the Ebola epidemic has exposed ”the weakness of health systems in developing countries [and] the paralysis and sluggishness of international aid”. The report highlighted the “global coalition of inaction” that dragged on for several months before the international community woke up to the threat of Ebola – despite repeated pleas from MSF for help.
“Quite simply, we were all too late. The world – including MSF – was slow to start the response from the beginning,” says Henry Gray, the head of MSF’s Ebola operations in Brussels. “That lesson has been learned, but at the cost of thousands of lives, and we can only hope it will prevent the same thing happening again in the future.”
MSF in Liberia
MSF is helping to look after people’s health needs in Liberia, post-Ebola, by running a pediatric inpatient clinic in Monrovia. It is also working with the Liberian Ministry of Health to carry out a measles vaccination campaign, currently underway across three districts in the capital.
With 10,212 cases of Ebola, and 4,573 deaths, Liberia was badly hit by the outbreak. The peak of the epidemic in Liberia occurred between August and October 2014, when MSF opened what became the world’s largest Ebola management centre, ELWA 3, in Monrovia, with a total capacity of 400 beds.
In Liberia, MSF admitted 9,470 people to its Ebola management centres and treated 5,170 patients confirmed with Ebola, of whom 2,956 died. Fourteen MSF staff also lost their lives to Ebola across West Africa.