Liberia Declared Ebola Free


Liberia Declared Ebola Free

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday declared Liberia, a country which lost over 4,000 people to Ebola, to be free of the disease.

The event marks the semi-official end to one the country's darkest days.

Patients stood in line to get into hospitals that didn't have a bed to spare. Thousands of children were orphaned. Burial teams roamed the streets carrying victims to crematoriums.

When the crisis started, officials - both Liberian and from the WHO - held an elaborate opening ceremony for an Ebola hospital. When patients arrived a few hours later no one came out to help them.

People in countryside desperately pleaded for an Ebola hospital but when their cries went unheard they built one themselves. Such resourcefulness is credited with saving the lives of many people.

The story of resourcefulness was a common one. Mothers donned trash bags to care for their ailing children as protective gear was simply not available. They taught the do-it-yourself methods to other mothers and family members who faced the same challenges they did.

Experts do not hold back when evaluating the country's initial response. The world deserves an "F", according to Larry Gostin, faculty director of the O'Neill Institute for National & Global Health Law at Georgetown University.

"If the world had mobilized rapidly and decisively, we could have saved 10,000 lives, great human hardship, and enormous health and social costs in three of the poorest countries in the world," he wrote to news organization CNN.

There are three reasons the initial response failed:

Ebola hit big cities, with people living in close proximity

West African countries have a severe shortage of doctors, nurses, laboratories and supplies

The tradition of washing dead relatives before burial spread the virus

But the WHO has also been faulted specifically for being too bureaucratic and perfectionist in coordinating efforts to help victims. They routinely questioned teams about their qualifications and held up efforts to reach victims through seemingly endless paperwork.

Even a highly qualified organization like or Center for Disease Control (CDC) was held back initially by the WHO. Those early hours are the most critical - stop the virus then and save many lives. Wait and the spreads gets exponential.

Much of this problem stems from a self-sufficiency bias of the African WHO. Leaders both didn't appreciate the severity and want to do everything themselves. The two together proved a deadly combination that saw much needed aide languish while victims were unable to get treatment. It was a story of so close and yet so far.

Once the CDC and other leading health officials were granted access, the response progressed well. And, eventually, it worked.

Liberia has now gone 42 days without a new case being reported, twice the maximum incubation period. It can now be deemed Ebola free.

Across Africa its getting better too. Guinea and Sierra Leone each had nine new cases last week, a big decline from the peak of hundreds of new cases a week.

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