Despite being a country of historic firsts, Liberia is sadly known for disastrous humanitarian emergencies.
MSF in Liberia 2014
The West African country, home to just over four million people, is the continent’s oldest republic and the first African country to elect a female head of state.
But, along with Sierra Leone and Guinea, Liberia was pushed to the forefront of the world stage in 2014 as the devastating Ebola outbreak spiralled out of control. The outbreak came at a time when people were just beginning to put the catastrophic civil war behind them.
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) first began working in Liberia in 1990 in response to the civil war, which killed more than 250,000 people between 1989-2003.
“I noticed my son looking more tired than usual. I was worried about him. He didn’t have any symptoms like vomiting or diarrhoea, but he just looked tired. I called the Ebola hotline and MSF brought him to their Ebola care centre here in Foya to be tested. When the test came back positive, it was a night of agony for me.
“After some time, my son started doing much better. He was moving around. I prayed that he would be free of Ebola and test negative, but I was worried that his eyes were still red. I just wanted us to be together again. Then something amazing happened, something I could not actually believe until I saw it.
“Until that moment I saw him coming outside, I could not truly believe that it would happen. I’ve seen people with Ebola start to look strong and then the next day, they’re just gone. So I was also thinking, maybe Kollie will be one of those who will be gone the next day. When finally I saw him come out, I felt so very, very happy. I looked at him and he said to me, “Pa, I am well. “
My wife and I live a lonely life. Our neighbours have barred their children from playing with our children - our home is a ‘no go zone’ for them. Some of them have gone as far as suspending speech with me and my wife. We’ve been isolated because we are both health workers.
I work as a physician’s assistant at MSF’s ELWA 3 Ebola Management Centre in Paynesville, and my wife works at the John F. Kennedy Hospital as a midwife. People accused us of being carriers of the disease. If we fall victim, will they rejoice and be happy we’re dead and gone?
A few colleagues have left their job because of stigma. But I take this as a challenge. We cannot abandon the treatment centers. There’ll be no one to care for patients if we do. It’s our responsibility. We have hope, we are proud and above all, we will remain very careful.
MSF’s work in Liberia: 2014
Liberia’s healthcare infrastructure had suffered as a result of the long civil war, and when the Ebola outbreak occurred there were already significant gaps in care.
As there were few confirmed Ebola patients in March and April, and none between the end of April and the beginning of June, the country and the aid organisations present were lulled into a false sense of security.
The national health system was unprepared to cope with the explosion of cases when the situation rapidly worsened at the end of July. In the space of two months, the number of cases went from fewer than 10 in June to more than 1,000. The epidemic peaked between August and October.
In response, we:
- Set up four Ebola management centres (EMCs) across Liberia, including ELWA 3 in Monrovia – the largest ever built, with 250 beds.
- Had four rapid response teams across Liberia (Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, Quewein and River Cess) to conduct mobile clinics and train local health staff in triage and infection control.
- Opened a transit centre to allow for the safe reopening of Redemption hospital.
- Provided psychosocial support for families of Ebola sufferers.
- Distributed antimalarials to 522,000 people in Monrovia to protect against Ebola and to reduce the number of patients presenting at EMCs wrongly thinking they had the disease.
Find out more in our 2014 International Activity Report.
At the end of 2014, MSF 373 staff working in Liberia. We first began working in the country in 1990.