The state of Liberia was founded by former American slaves who settled in the area from about 1820. The foundation of the state building was the idea of a return of freed slaves to Africa to return to life before slavery entered. Liberia has had two major civil wars, 1986 – 1996 and 1989 – 2003. Check AbbreviationFinder for history of Liberia. Reconstruction has not gone very fast. Civil war and bad domestic politics have destroyed much of Liberia’s economy, especially the infrastructure in and around the capital Monrovia. Many business people have fled the country, bringing with them capital and technical expertise. An ebila epidemic started in 2014 and ravaged the country for over a year. On May 9, 2015, Liberia was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization.
Since March 2014, there have been over 3,000 confirmed cases of Ebola in Liberia, 7400 suspected cases and an estimated 4700 deaths related to the outbreak. In a country with just under 4.2 million inhabitants, most will be affected in one way or another. The country is left with a health care system that has suffered significant losses, in the form of human lives (nearly 200 health workers died from the disease) and the ability to deal with ordinary diseases such as malaria, diarrhea and other tropical diseases.
The Ebola epidemic started in Guinea in the border areas against Liberia and Sierra Leone. There are several causes of the disease spread rapidly. One reason is the population density and that the population in this part of West Africa is highly mobile, with high travel activity. There are short distances between the villages where the disease first flared up and big cities like Monrovia, and although the roads are poor, it was quite possible to travel from areas with Ebola infection in Guinea via southeastern Sierra Leone to Monrovia in barely a day or two. This helped spread the disease as it did.
Another important reason is the priorities of the major pharmaceutical companies. Researchers and experts on health and infection protection had long feared a major Ebola outbreak, but despite several warnings and increased awareness of the pandemic in the media, not enough money was allocated for research and any cures or vaccines. The reason is simple: The large pharmaceutical companies, which have the resources to conduct such research, concentrate on diseases where potential patients have the ability to pay. As long as the Ebola virus only affected a few poor African farmers in isolated villages, research was unprofitable and therefore unattractive. The world community was left powerless.
A third reason has to do with state capacity and legitimacy. I was even in Liberia when the first cases of Ebola infection were registered in the country in March 2014, and it was obvious that neither the health care, other government institutions or the UN force in the country were prepared to deal with the situation. They reacted late and with panicked measures such as isolating areas of Ebola infection from other parts of the country. While this may have been necessary, the authorities lacked public confidence. There were rumors and speculation about what was going on. The undersigned has even spoken to several Liberians who for a long time believed that Ebola was not a real disease, but instead a conspiracy staged by the country’s president to keep the UN force in the country and himself in power. Because of distrust, it took too long for people to change their behavior and follow the authorities’ recommendations. For example, traditional burial rites were maintained, where the deceased is washed by their relatives without any form of protection. Desperate relatives brought their loved ones by force out of the hospital’s infection control departments to seek healing through prayer or in traditional medicine. The tragic consequence was that the infection continued to spread. The international community finally came on the offensive through large-scale interventions of both a civilian and a military character.
Lessons learned from the epidemic
What was most effective must be considered so that one can learn from what happened in Liberia and be better equipped almost once such a thing happens. come, and that much of the little that had been rebuilt that has now been torn down again by the Ebola outbreak.
When the outbreak started, Liberia had a total of 51 doctors, 978 nurses and 269 pharmacists. Many of these are now dead. When the great international presence is drawn out, Liberia is left with a broken health system. This is one of the biggest challenges facing the country now. Although the Ebola outbreak should be over, malaria and diarrhea are also very deadly diseases if the infected are not treated.
Another challenge is the economy. Although the country experienced significant economic growth in the years 2011-2014, growth was primarily concentrated around certain enclaves and elites in Monrovia. No one knows for sure how much the Ebola outbreak has cost in total, but these are significant sums, also in the form of international companies withdrawing. For most of the population it is most important how long it takes to rebuild local food production and local markets. If the harvest is considerably less than usual, it will entail further trials, which in turn will have consequences for political stability.
The population is apparently relieved that the immediate danger of the Ebola is over, but it will not necessarily last. President Johnson-Sirleaf and her government implemented several contentious measures during the outbreak, for example, the West Point slum in Monrovia was quarantined, which was later repealed as arbitrarily as it was implemented.
The Ebola outbreak has not put the country back to the heap of ruins it was when the last battles of the civil war ended in August 2003, but the epidemic has undoubtedly inflicted huge human, political and economic costs on the country. It will therefore take time for the country to return to the same level as before the outbreak. The hope is that the international community will learn from the Ebola outbreak and give greater priority to building a more well-functioning and robust health system in Liberia.