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Liberia overwhelmed by Ebola

Daniel PelzSeptember 16, 2014

In response to a request for help from Liberia for help in the fight against Ebola, German aid agencies are to set up two isolation wards in the capital Monrovia. The death toll in West Africa now exceeds 2,400.

A poster saying 'Ebola is dangerous, let's prevent the spread of this deadly virus together'
Image: DW/J. Kanubah

According to the president of the I.S.A.R Germany organization, which is setting up the wards together with action medeor, this will increase Monrovia's capacity to treat Ebola patients by 20 percent. The wards can accommodate a total of 44 patients. The action coincides with reports that Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has written to a number of countries, including Germany, asking for direct help. DW spoke to Liberia's ambassador in Germany, Her Excellency Ethel Davis.

DW: Madam Ambassador, is a new isolation ward sufficient or do you need more help from Germany?

Ambassador Davis: This isolation ward is not sufficient but we are grateful for it because at least it will help to house patients so that they can be cared for. We actually need more tents, more medicine, more protective equipment for the health workers. If any organization – or Germany - could come to our aid we would be most grateful.

Ambassador Davis inspects aid supplies for Liberia together with Thomas Laackmann, medical director of I.S.A.R Germany
Ambassador Davis inspects aid supplies for Liberia together with Thomas Laackmann, medical director of I.S.A.R GermanyImage: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Seidel

Germany has pledged around 10 million euros ($12.9 million) to the World Health Organization (WHO) for the fight against Ebola. In your view, is that enough or is more support from Germany needed?

More support would be needed because, as we know, this disease has no cure. This disease is highly infectious, this disease has travelled across countries – so if the international community can really come together to help to contain this disease, it will go a long way to help. Because today it is in West Africa, tomorrow we do not know in which part of the world it will be. You can't see it, you don't know how to contain it, so it is best that everybody comes together to eradicate this disease as they did with smallpox so that other countries won't go through this terrible sickness that we are going through right now in Liberia.

Are Germany and other development partners responding fast enough to your requests?

The WHO is coordinating the Ebola campaign in West Africa so they are responding to the WHO. There are three countries which are affected (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone), plus Nigeria which has a small number of cases. The WHO is coordinating the outsourcing of equipment, medicine and personnel to these countries.

Is the response of the WHO fast enough in your view?

It's fast enough but the number of cases is too large. The disease is spreading rapidly, it's beyond the capacity of the team in Liberia to handle it right now. 82 of our health workers have died. Some international actors have been contaminated and one of them unfortunately died. The number of cases is beyond the abilities of health care workers now. They are doing their best but the disease is spreading too rapidly, that's the problem.

What do you make of statements from some experts who say that help now is almost coming too late – because it does take time to build additional isolation wards or additional hospitals. Do you think it is still possible to save Liberia and the Liberian population from this terrible disease?

It is possible and I would not say nothing can be done. People cannot just put their hands in the air and say that, because so many people are dying and the disease is spreading rapidly, there is no hope. No, there are still people who can be saved, there are still people who can be free from contamination, there are still people who can be isolated. People should not just give up. As I said before, it is Liberia today but it could be another country tomorrow so we cannot say it is hopeless. There is hope. In Liberia people treated in the early stages have overcome the disease and we see that if the disease is attacked during the early stages, more people will be saved. There is no vaccination and no cure but if people are given good care in the early stage – rehydration, antibiotics, good medical care, then they can be saved.

You have asked international development partners for additional support to fight Ebola. What additional measures is the Liberian government ready to introduce?

As you know, the Liberian government has declared a state of emergency . This stops people from congregating , we have the power to go into people's homes to search for Ebola patients who are being hidden from health care workers. A lot of non-essential employees have been stopped from going to work. But, as you know, the health care system in Liberia is fragile. We are coming from a period of 20 years of war. The infrastructure was broken. We are just trying to rebuild and reconstruct our country – and now we have this Ebola disease that we did not budget for. There was no funding because we did not expect it. Right now the economy is slow so how can the government cope with this virus and raise additional funds. The economy is at zero, there is no economic activity right now in Liberia. So the government is doing all in its power to provide health care for the people but it is beyond the capacity of the government. We need help from the international community.

International broadcasters like Deutsche Welle, for instance, have been putting a lot of effort into informing people about Ebola, to at least spread basic awareness of the disease. Is this a positive step in the fight against Ebola?

It is a positive step because a lot of people in Africa listen to Deutsche Welle . It is helpful in those countries affected to hear about health care measures, how to avoid the disease. I wish more broadcasters would do the same as you instead of putting out only negative news. They should start to educate the people.

Her Excellency Ethel Davis is the Liberian ambassador in Germany.

Interview: Daniel Pelz