18 August 2014

Liberia: Ebola Hits the Family – But Won't Stop Us from Helping

Photo: Patience Handful Dalieh/allAfrica
In this Ebola time, you can't protect yourself without protecting others around you otherwise you'll still fall prey to the virus. Even by talking to your neighbors on how they can prevent themselves is a form of helping them and yourself at the same time.

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The Liberia Ebola Stories That Don't Get Told

International news reports about Liberia leave the impression of overwhelming irrationality in response to the Ebola crisis. It's true that fear has provoked unfortunate incidents. But many Liberians are working hard and courageously - despite the lack of an international response that would supply the equipment and medical help to stem the virus.

Ebola hit close to home – hard - this month. Two members of my church - one a nun and the other a social worker who had been under 21-day quarantine and observation - both died.

My cousin Enid, an emergency nurse with the health ministry, was under surveillance as well, after coming into contact with an Ebola patient. She was assigned to Kakata, a densely populated trading town in Margibi County, where several health workers had already died and health facilities didn't have enough personal protective supplies. Our family was worried about her.

Now, she, too, has died. On her Facebook page a few weeks ago, she posted, "Ebola has hit Margibi again. More health workers are being affected this round 2 and some are even dying. Oh God have mercy." Our family and friends will remember that she caught the virus trying to save others. Rest In Peace, Enid.

But personal losses aren't stopping Liberians from trying to help ourselves and each other. Whatever you hear about the situation, you should know that people may be frightened, but most of us are working hard to stop the virus.

Ebola has become a household word. When the first case was reported in the northern Lofa area in late March, the chief medical officer, Dr. Bernice Dahn, warned that "the disease is reported to be spreading along the border" Liberia shares with Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Almost every Liberian citizen now knows what Ebola is. Many believe that the virus is real and are taking preventive measures, while others are in denial. But these people who are denying the existence of the Ebola virus in the country still follow the preventive measures, which baffles me.

"I don't understand some Liberians", said one of my friends, Derek Berlic. When I asked him why, he said, "Some people go around saying that the virus isn't real, but yet still they join us and wash their hands and use sanitizers as frequently as those of us that believe that the virus is real." He said it pleases him when he sees these individuals taking preventive measures, because it signals that somewhere in these people minds, they believe the virus is real, even if they don't want to admit it.

Most churches have joined the fight against Ebola by carrying on awareness campaigns, talking about it during sermons and placing buckets of water at entrances of the church buildings for members to wash their hands before entering for service. Both Christian and Muslim religious leaders have called on all Liberians to pray for the country – and, at the same time, to take their own preventive measures.

Supermarkets, shops and other business centers are following suit. The three mobile phone companies in Liberia have been using SMS to sensitive their subscribers by sending daily text messages about the virus. Across cities and towns, Liberians have organized themselves in various communities and are promoting awareness.

It seems that almost every Liberian has now become his or her 'brother's keeper' by carrying on sensitization in taxis, clubs, and market places - wherever they find themselves. On Facebook, many Liberians have made their profile pictures Ebola related and their statuses feature awareness messages on a daily basis. Liberian groups on Facebook discuss the situation.

Liberians in the diaspora have organized themselves into mini-groups to send aid, such as gloves and other personal protective equipment, back home to fight this deadly disease. The Liberian ambassador in Washington DC, Jeremiah Sulunteh, announced that the embassy had established an account for those who want to donate.

The alarmingly high death rate from the Ebola virus among health workers has left citizens wondering how they will get medical care for many common illnesses, which can be deadly also, such as malaria. Bodies of suspected Ebola victims being left in the streets or in houses adds to the anxiety.

In this situation, it's hard to prevent suspicion and misinformation. There were stories of some individuals going around putting dangerous chemicals such as formaldehyde in wells in various communities.  The result is that Liberians had to worry about poisonous chemicals being put into water sources as well as about the Ebola virus; but Police Director Col. Chris Massaqoui has since denounced the rumor. He said the police found no evidence that the stories were true.

The president of Liberia, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has addressed the nation multiple times, including announcing a three-month state of emergency. She said, "Under the State of Emergency, the Government will institute extraordinary measures, including, if need be, the suspension of certain rights and privileges."

The government has passed a regulation for only three persons to sit in the back of a taxi to avoid close contact, but even at that, one can't possibly avoid touching or rubbing against other passengers. On a daily basis, securing transport is a rush-and-fighting thing, which involves considerable contact with other people who are also trying to get a taxi or bus. In my case, the trip to work usually takes two different commercial vehicles. So movement from place to place has become worrisome. Still, people have no choice but to do it.

And there are positive things every Liberian can do. So this is how I spent my weekend. With the organization Girls As Partners, I managed to reach out to ten different churches in the Gardnersville area of Monrovia, giving them buckets, chlorine and soap so their members could adhere to one of the Ebola preventive measures – washing hands. We also gave out leaflets containing facts about Ebola and its prevention.

We're in the rainy season now, and we had to walk through small rivers to get to some churches, but it was really fun reaching out to others. Would you believe someone was brave enough to ask me whether I had a political motive for doing this? Nevertheless, I say let's all be our brothers' and sisters' keepers and kick Ebola out of Liberia!

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InFocus

When Ebola Hits a Liberian Family

In this Ebola time, you can't protect yourself without protecting others around you otherwise you'll still fall prey to the virus. Even by talking to your neighbors on how they can prevent themselves is a form of helping them and yourself at the same time.

Fear has provoked many unfortunate incidents in Liberia as the country grapples with the deadly Ebola outbreak. But many are working hard and courageously, despite the lack of an ... Read more »