AP Interview: Liberia leader urges help in post-Ebola phase

AP News
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Posted: Feb 22, 2015 9:51 AM

SHARJAH, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Liberia's leader on Sunday urged the United States and other countries to keep up their support to the West African nation as it recovers from the Ebola epidemic and refocuses attention on infrastructure projects that will better position it to tackle future outbreaks of disease.

In an interview with The Associated Press, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said Liberia needs outside help to see through its "post-Ebola agenda" of building up basic public services — development that she said was needed to prevent another deadly epidemic from becoming "a global menace."

Among the needs she highlighted were power projects to keep hospital equipment running, roads so the sick can access medical facilities, and clean water to prevent diseases from spreading.

"Our own limited resources have not enabled us to take them to the level where they could ... be in a preventive mode. And that's the support we want," she said.

"The great lesson in all these things, you know, whether you're dealing with conflict or whether you're dealing with disease, is to emphasize prevention rather than cure. It costs so much when you have to fix it," added Sirleaf, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.

Liberia was one of the countries hardest hit in the West Africa Ebola outbreak that began last year and ranks as the largest in history. It has seen more than 9,000 confirmed, suspected and probable cases, and 3,900 deaths.

Sirleaf acknowledged that her country could have been more aggressive in fighting the disease at the outset. But she also said she wished that the U.S. and other developed countries, with their better resources and expertise, would have moved faster.

"We were slow. The world was slow. Everybody was fearful. It was an unknown enemy," she said, adding that she was grateful for the international help — including 2,800 American troops deployed to the region — when it arrived.

That outside support helped bring the epidemic under control. In a sign that life is returning to normal, Sirleaf on Friday ordered the lifting of an overnight curfew set up in August to tackle the Ebola epidemic and the reopening of the country's land border crossings.

The disease has not been wiped out entirely, though.

Eight patients who have tested positive for the disease are still being cared for in Liberian treatment centers, and eight health care workers in the capital, Monrovia, are being kept under observation after they came in contact with a patient who tested positive, assistant health minister Tolbert Nyenswah said Saturday.

Sirleaf cautioned that more must be done to eradicate Ebola.

"Now's not the time to be complacent or to pull out or to ... stop the support. Now's the time to really intensify it so we put in those proper preventive measures to make sure there's no recurrence," she said.

Sirleaf is in the United Arab Emirates city of Sharjah, near Dubai, to address the International Government Communication Forum.

She will travel to Washington later this week to meet with President Barack Obama to discuss the response to Ebola and the region's economic recovery.

The U.S. is preparing to withdraw nearly all of the troops it deployed last year to help stem the spread of the Ebola outbreak. About 100 will remain to work with Liberia's military, regional partners and American civilians.

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Follow Adam Schreck on Twitter at www.twitter.com/adamschreck.