President Sirleaf Officially Receives the WHO Ebola-free Declaration;
Notes that the Challenge Now is to Work with the Other Two Affected Countries
(MONROVIA, LIBERIA – Monday, May 11, 2015) President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says though the country has been declared Ebola free by the World Health Organization (WHO), the challenge now in this fight is working with the two other worse affected countries – Sierra Leone and Guinea – to achieve the position that Liberia has reached.
She said Liberia will begin to take a regional approach to share information, talents and experiences with the other two affected countries; stressing that in the coming weeks Liberia will intensify efforts in this regard as the country is still at risk once the Ebola virus disease is still active in the two neighboring countries.
According to an Executive Mansion release, the Liberian leader made the assertion when she addressed a mammoth crowd at the Centennial Memorial Pavilion after she was officially presented the declaration of the end of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia by the WHO.
President Sirleaf used the occasion to pay tribute to all Liberians who assisted in the fight against this deadly disease, particularly signaling out security forces who had not been mentioned in earlier statements.
Before then, the WHO Representative Dr. Alex Gasasira had another opportunity to officially declare the outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Liberia over. He said Liberia has interrupted transmission of the Ebola virus and 42 days have passed since the last laboratory-confirmed case was buried on March 28; the criteria established by WHO has been met.
The WHO Representative said the interruption of the transmission is a monumental achievement for a country that reported the highest number of deaths in the largest, longest and most complex outbreak since Ebola first emerged in 1976.
Dr. Gasasira warned, however, that transmission persists in neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone creating a high risk that infected people may cross into Liberia. “The government is fully aware of the need to remain on high alert and has the experience, capacity, and support from international partners to do so,” he re-echoed adding, that his organization is here to support Liberia as the response transitions from outbreak control, to vigilance for imported cases, to recovery of essential health services.
On behalf of WHO and its Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, and the Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, Dr. Gasasira conveyed their heartfelt congratulations to the people and government of Liberia on the monumental success.
He then presented the Ebola- Free Declaration to the head of the Incident Management System of the Ministry of Health, Mr. Tolbert Nyenswah, who in turn presented it to outgoing Health Minister, Dr. Walter Gwenigale.
Dr. Gwenigale, in turn, officially presented it to President Sirleaf amidst rapturous applauds.
Making remarks earlier, the President of Togo, His Excellency Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé, who is also ECOWAS Ebola Coordinator, congratulated the Government and people of Liberia for achieving this milestone.
He paid homage to Ghanaian President and Chairman of ECOWAS Authority, Dr. John Mahama, through his representative, for his personal level of engagement in the fight against Ebola.
President Gnassingbé recalled his solidarity visit to Monrovia in February on behalf of ECOWAS and to reassure the country how ECOWAS was determined to work along with Liberia. “However, it was a real historic success,” he stressed; but warned that Liberians should not ignore the fact that Ebola is a public health problem that has a lot of human loss because health systems were not strong enough. He said Liberians have demonstrated that this public health crisis is not a fatality; but it can be overcome if all work together as the people of Liberia demonstrated.
He expressed thanks and congratulated the people of Liberia, especially President Sirleaf for her exceptional leadership demonstrated during this painful period. He paid particular tribute to the health workers who made a lot of sacrifices in the fight against Ebola.
The Togolese President said the celebrations going on would not have been possible without the participation of the international partners who mobilized themselves and resources in order to put logistics in place.
For her part, Ghana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Ms. Hanna Serwaa Tetteh, who represented the President of Ghana and Chairman of ECOWAS Authority, Dr. John Mahama, brought warm greeting and congratulations for having achieved the remarkable milestone for eradicating the Ebola virus from Liberia.
She stressed that it was not only to congratulate President Sirleaf for her leadership, but the leadership of the country at all levels of society including the health workers around the country. “We are extremely proud at how you have made it within this short period of time,” she said, adding that from a distance, they could only sympathize with the challenge that Liberia faced.
She stressed that for Liberia, worse affected by the virus and the first to come out of it, speaks volumes. She noted that this shows the kind of leadership, making reference to President Sirleaf, that the country has amidst a standing ovation.
Ms. Tetteh also thanked the international partners for the support they have provided to the Ebola affected countries.
She warned that while Liberians want to celebrate how far they have come, it is important to recognize the work that is left undone. She appealed to partners of the international community to help these affected countries go through the last lap which is to ensure that the sub-region has similar celebrations in Guinea and Sierra Leone. “Only when that happens then we will know that our sub-region is truly free,” Ms. Tetteh said.
The Ghanaina Foreign Minister, on behalf of President Mahama, extended appreciation to all the health workers and volunteers from the AU and ECOWAS who came to assist in the containment of the virus in the sub-region.
While acknowledging what has been done, she also raised the issues of what needs to be done; highlighting the stringent measures placed on Liberia. “Those countries that up until now have closed their borders to Liberia, it’s time to open them. Those countries that have stopped their airlines from flying to Monrovia, it’s time to resume the flights,” she urged adding that Liberia will not be able to achieve the reconstruction if this “semi-isolation” continues.
Senior Counsellor at the Nigerian Embassy near Monrovia, Mrs. Beatrice Archibong, speaking on behalf of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan congratulated President Sirleaf and the people of Liberia on the end of the Ebola virus disease in Liberia as declared by the WHO.
She assured that Nigeria remains committed to assisting Liberia in its rehabilitation and reconstruction processes.
She warned that though Liberia is celebrating the end of the virus disease in Liberia, the sub-region is not yet free from the virus since two of the worse affected countries – Guinea and Sierra Leone – still report cases of the transmission. “We implore all West African countries to remain vigilant and enhance surveillance not only for the Ebola virus but also other diseases that constitute public health emergencies,” she urged.
She commended the decision of the AU to establish an African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ACDCP) in Nigeria and assured that the Nigerian Government was ready and willing to support this institution and build capacities of health workers within the sub-region.
She also praised the exemplary leadership of President Sirleaf with the support of international partners that today the country is celebrating this huge success in the fight against Ebola and also sympathized with the Liberian Government as well as families that have lost loved ones during the Ebola crisis.