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US senators briefed on Ebola

Chrispin MwakideuSeptember 17, 2014

Ahead of an emergency session of the UN Security Council, US senators have been briefed on the impact of Ebola in West Africa. They were asked not to forget that Liberia is not the only country affected.

Liberians being processed for Ebola treatment
Image: DW/Julius Kanubah

US Senators have been hearing from experts with first-hand experience of Ebola on the reality of the situation in the countries affected, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. Dr Kent Brantly, an Ebola survivor, said there was an urgent need to put more people on the ground to help. The senators also heard from Ishmael Charles, Program Manager of the Healey International Relief Foundation in Freetown, Sierra Leone, who later spoke to DW.

DW: Mr Charles, what was your message to the senators?

Ishmael Charles: Basically, I tried to bring a human face to the whole situation in Sierra Leone and West Africa. I told the US Senate exactly how things are going on - things like the situation with the economic downfall, the negative situation on family lives, how people are suffering - the cost of commodities has tripled - companies are closing down, people are dying. Things are really not working very well. Health infrastructures are broken and the state is overwhelmed with handling Ebola.

Ishmael Charles (right) with Kent Brantly at the US hearing on Ebola in West AfricaImage: Ishmael Charles

How did the US senators react to your briefing?

They reacted very positively. They demonstrated a strong sense of compassion and they realized the importance of putting a human face to the whole story because what we hear most times is technocrats, doctors, talking technical language. But having someone from the grass roots, from Sierra Leone, they were happy to hear how ordinary Sierra Leoneans and West Africans are feeling the pinch of the situation.

Did the politicians make any commitments, either morally or financially?

Yes, there were a couple of commitments. They said outright that they are going to move it to another level. The committee that sat on the hearing is the Appropriations Committee which determines where the money of US taxpayers goes. They are supposed to put together resources and say a certain amount of money is going to go to certain particular things.

What do you think of the global response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa?

The global response was quite slow, I must be very candid about that. But it is never too late. The fact remains that people are dying on a daily basis. So we need action now. We are happy that things are now moving forward.

A lot of attention is currently being focused on Liberia which has been hardest hit by the outbreak. Do you feel sidelined as a Sierra Leonean in the fight to curb the spread of the virus?

When addressing the Senate, I pleaded that they should not forget Sierra Leone. By virtue of its history and background, the US has stronger ties with Liberia. We were expecting that the British government would support Sierra Leone equally but unfortunately that has not been the case. [Sierra Leone became independent from Britain in 1961 - Ed.] So I pleaded at the Senate that they should not forget Sierra Leone. We have similar cases, so we want them to understand that it is not only Liberia - and there is also Guinea. Because once Ebola has been stopped in one country, it can cross borders again. There has to be a holistic approach to the whole of West Africa so that we eradicate the virus once and for all.

Ishmael Charles is the Program Manager of the Healey International Relief Foundation in Freetown, Sierra Leone

Interview: Chrispin Mwakideu