The recent news that Sierra Leone has finally been declared Ebola free and the new cases found in Liberia made me realize that I had nearly forgotten Ebola; the world seems to have forgotten as well.
It also reminded me of where we were this time last year: in the midst of a full-blown epidemic in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Here at IBI, we were carrying on, managing our existing Liberia USAID-GEMS project, and starting up a new, State Department-funded Justice Administration and Management Support Project.
Although we were operating in Monrovia at full capacity (while most other implementers shut down or curtailed their operations) things were not exactly normal. IBI implemented rigorous health and safety protocols and precautions designed to protect our staff and their families. These included daily briefings, frequent temperature checks (see photo), hand washing, and the provision of lunch each day so our employees would not have to risk exposure to the virus while going out for food. We supplied all of our employees with home safety kits that included protective gear, sanitation supplies, and a thermometer. We were very grateful that no IBI staff members or their families were infected.
IBI is proud of the way we supported the Government of Liberia during the crisis. We helped the Ministry of Health manage the international donations of vehicles and other supplies by setting up asset and fleet management systems, and supported efforts to procure additional supplies and services. We also provided advice to the Liberian government on using communications technologies to coordinate response efforts and pay remote workers. And despite the difficulties of setting up an office and recruiting new staff members to move to the middle of an Ebola epidemic, we were able to start up our new project to build financial, administrative, operational capacity at the Ministry of Justice. We are even prouder of the way the government and people of Liberia responded to the crisis. As noted by Ambassador Pam White at ICGFM’s November meeting, Liberians worked hard and organized themselves to identify and change risky behavior, to coordinate support from international donors, and to implement new health systems and procedures to combat the spread of the virus.
They did such a good job that we had nearly forgotten Ebola. It was no longer in the media, nor did it occupy headline space in the Center for Disease Control’s web site. We stopped talking about it in our staff meetings, and did not need to mention how we protect our employees from the virus during our recruitment calls.
But Ebola is not gone. It is still active in parts of Guinea, and three new cases, with one death, have recently been reported in Liberia. Liberia’s Minister of Health, Dr. Bernice Dahn, acknowledges that “It is possible we will find more cases. The key is to stop it, find the source, and prevent the next one.” Ebola dealt a lasting blow to Liberia and its people, most importantly in human terms, with over 4,800 people dead from the disease, and also in economic terms, with economic growth rates dropping dramatically in the past year. On a recent interview with CNN, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said she expects it will take two years for the country to economically recover from the epidemic. Ebola remains an important influencer in Liberia, and is a reminder of the impact a wide-ranging crises can have on a nation. IBI will continue its support to Liberia and its efforts to rebuild after the epidemic. And we will remember Ebola.