Opinion: German help for Liberia ′better late than never′ | Africa | DW | 26.09.2014
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Africa

Opinion: German help for Liberia 'better late than never'

The news that several thousand volunteers from Germany's armed forces, the Bundeswehr, are to join the fight against Ebola, has been welcomed in Liberia, says correspondent Julius Kanubah.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was virtually on her knees in early September when she wrote a letter to world leaders including US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Her cry was for urgent help from these global leaders, to come to the aid of Liberia amid the "unprecedented and unparalleled" outbreak of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) currently affecting Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

The virus has left over 1,800 people dead in Liberia, plunged the country's economy into recession, stalled limited post-war development and investment programs and intruded into the Liberian traditional culture of close-interactions and caring for the sick and respecting the dead. To say Liberians are now living in a state of complete fear as I write is a big underestimation!

Hence, when news surfaces that Germany is preparing its armed forces to finally join the Ebola fight in West Africa, there is a tremendous burst of happiness from us on this side of the world. This is because we as a nation and a people have been losing the war on Ebola.

Since the virus emerged in late March, it has continued to surge despite the state of emergency declared by our government which was followed by an all night curfew and the quarantining of two large poor communities – the slum of West Point in Monrovia and Dolo Town in the central region of Margibi County.

Julius Kanubah in a park

Julius Kanubah regularly reports for DW from Monrovia

On a provincial level, fourteen of Liberia's fifteen counties are affected by the virus and a nation with about four million people is facing a catastrophic loss of human lives.

Moreover, healthcare services for other treatable diseases are either not available or limited across Liberia because of Ebola. People suffering from illnesses other than Ebola are afraid to go to health centers, after Liberian health authorities issued the instruction that all cases of malaria, fever and diarrhoea should be treated as suspected Ebola. This means many people are dying on a daily basis from these curable sicknesses. That is the sad reality facing Liberia, a country rich in natural resources but with poor living standards.

The announcement by Germany that it is preparing teams of soldiers and civilians to come to the rescue of Liberia and the neighboring countries of Guinea and Sierra Leone could not have come at a better time. While for skeptics, such intervention is coming far too late, for most people, it is better late than never.

Take for instance, the damning new “worst-case-scenario” projections by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in which it is gloomily stated that if nothing is done to effectively control the outbreak, there could be 1.4 million Ebola cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone by mid-January 2015. If that is not miserable enough, an earlier report by the New England Journal of Medicine emphasised that without a greatly increased global response, over 20,000 people may be infected by early November. That is between five to six weeks from now!

This is why Germany's planned deployment of hundreds of volunteer doctors and other medical staff of the military and civilian workers as well, is greatly applauded. The news comes at a time when some of the three thousand American troops pledged by President Obama started to arrive in Liberia.

While the swift arrival of the US troops should raise some questions about Germany's slow response, it is important to mention that historically Liberia is closer to the US than to Germany. Strategically, both Liberia and the US are traditional allies with a long shared history dating back nearly two centuries. The Liberian nation was founded in the 1800s by freed African-American slaves.

Liberia also has a strong relationship with Germany - in 2007 Chancellor Merkel pushed for the cancellation of Liberia's mountainous debts both internationally and bilaterally.

But now, if Germany is to help Liberia in its present hour of need, the deployment of German doctors and medical staff to Liberia must be speeded up. Liberians can't wait to see the first contingent of German helpers arrive on their soil in response to their cry for help.

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