As the world's worst ever outbreak of Ebola virus spreads like wildfire through West Africa, Korto Williams explains how the virus is devastating Liberia's people, overwhelming its health systems and crippling the economy in this interview for the BBC World Service NewsHour. Listen to her interview here or read the transcript below.
“Ebola is pulling my country apart. Liberia is a nation recovering from war. A nation that has spent ten years rebuilding its broken infrastructure. Our health systems are underfunded, but our economy was recovering. Now our poor are getting poorer.
Not enough beds for Ebola patients
A couple of weeks ago I met a man so destitute he brought his critically ill son to an Ebola holding centre in a wheelbarrow. Wearing no protective clothing, except a thin pair of rubber gloves, he explained that his son was bleeding, that he had been vomiting and was so weak he couldn’t stand.
I was horrified when the centre turned him away, because there was simply no space to admit him. We called the Ebola helpline, a national response centre where people who have symptoms of the disease are supposed to get help. But we were simply told to “be patient”. They had known about the boy’s case for four days.
To say this was heart-wrenching is an understatement, but it’s a sad reality. The health centres, where ActionAid is providing supplies like disinfectant, towels, chlorine and soap, are being forced to send suspected Ebola cases back into the community, because they don’t have enough beds.
Fear and panic is spreading
And it’s not just the health system that lacks funds. The broader economic impact of Ebola is becoming increasingly apparent.
Multinational companies are scaling down their operations in Liberia and big industries like aviation and shipping are folding, as fear and panic spreads. The price of food is soaring and already hungry people can no longer afford even the most basic foodstuffs.
I recently visited the (then) quarantined communities of West Point and Dolo Town. They were highly militarised and people were very mistrustful and angry, not just of the army, but of aid workers too.
West Point is home to 78,000 people and is a major economic hub. Richer Liberians normally go there to buy fish, meat and vegetables, so the quarantine has had a crippling impact on local livelihoods.
Liberians are facing famine
My team did what we could, handing out food aid of rice, beans and oil to people in desperate need. But with airlines shutting down, the likelihood of getting goods, imports or even aid into the country is decreasing.
This does not bode well for Liberia’s economic growth. But even more worryingly it brings the threat of famine closer every day.”
This recording was first broadcast on BBC World Service NewsHour.