The World Health Organization (WHO) says over 4,000 people have now contracted the Ebola virus in West Africa. Liberia's Minister of Information, Lewis Brown, told DW about the difficulties his country is facing.
DW: Could you paint us a picture of how bad is the situation in Liberia?
Lewis Brown: I can only borrow words from our President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the situation is grave. At the same time we are encouraged by the increasing level of community ownership in this fight. People are turning up at Ebola facilities that are already full, because they are getting the word that this disease is deadly, but if they come in early, they can be helped. It has actually put a strain on available resources and it has increased the need for us to expand treatment facilities to give care to those who need it the most. It is an urgent need, it is grave and compelling.
How are you solving the problem of having few treatment beds?
It is a difficult problem. We are working with our partners including the WHO and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to expand our treatment facilities. Monrovia is being targeted to be expanded by another 500 beds. We want to expand into counties and districts because the answer cannot be to invite people to come from other counties to other places. That puts fellow travelers at risk. So we must be able to meet those needs. But what is also important is that we continue to prevent the spread, that we care for those who need the care, that we care for those who are afflicted and infected. We must also attend to those who have not contracted the virus, by showing them methods by which it can be prevented.
How are you doing that?
Increase community engagement. Increasing a sense of ownership and getting communities to lead in this effort and giving them what they need to do this, whether it be surveillance of sick people in the community or contact tracing, or whether it be identifying those in the community and extracting them, or whether it be education on how to bury safely and not getting contaminated by touching dead bodies or sick people.
The number of infected people will increase exponentially according to WHO. What is it that you are not doing correctly?
I think WHO has indicated that we have done everything that we can possibly do and they are alerting the world, something that we have always been doing. This is an international problem and we need international assistance to tackle it. What the WHO is indicating in its reporting is that Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea need international help and we need it quickly.
Is the international community doing enough to help you?
They are doing better than they did before. But in order to respond as we want to, then certainly we must do more. This virus has been declared unprecedented and as an international health crisis. We know that we have responsibility as a government but we are at the limit of our own resources.
Why is it so hard to contain Ebola in Liberia?
Firstly, it is the first outbreak on our side of Africa. Secondly, our spread is unprecedented. Thirdly, we also have malaria, which is a common ailment, which some of us even treat by ourselves. And so to tell people, this is a little more than malaria but it has all the symptoms of malaria, makes it a deceptive virus. It has attacked our way of life and it has also attacked our hospitals and clinics, which are places where people should come for help for other treatable ailments. But we have had to shut down these clinics because they became places where the virus was being spread. Our capital Monrovia is for the first time also affected and this is where one third of our population resides.
Lewis Brown is the Minister of Information in Liberia.
Interview: Asumpta Lattus.