Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf penned a letter to President Obama this week urging the U.S. government to take more aggressive action to help the West African country fight the deadly Ebola virus outbreak, which first broke in March and continues to spread rapidly.
“I am being honest with you when I say that at this rate, we will never break the transmission chain and the virus will overwhelm us,” wrote Sirleaf in the letter, which was dated September 9 and viewed by the New York Times and Reuters. "Only governments like yours have the resources and assets to deploy at the pace required to arrest the spread," she wrote, adding, "Without more direct help from your government, we will lose this battle against Ebola." Among Sirleaf's requests are 1,500 hospital beds around the country and a 100-bed hospital in the capital of Monrovia, which is ground zero for the disease outbreak.
Half of the more than 2,400 recorded Ebola deaths since March have taken place in Liberia, and the World Health Organization recently warned that infections are quickly multiplying in this country. Meanwhile, Liberia's health care system, which has been devastated by decades of structural adjustment programs imposed by Western financial institutions, is unable to keep pace with the epidemic. Dangerous work conditions and poor and nonexistent pay, furthermore, are hampering the capacity of Liberian aid workers to respond to the public health emergency, prompting medical worker strikes and work actions.
Infectious disease experts and humanitarian aid workers have criticized the United States, as well as the World Health Organization and United Nations, for failing to aggressively mobilize to quell the crisis. The U.S. has so far committed approximately $100 million of medical and protective equipment, according to Reuters. While the U.S. Department of Defense recently announced it is transferring a 25-bed field hospital to Liberia to help fight the disease, there is some question as to whether these resources will be used to treat Liberians.
Humanitarian aid group Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has erected numerous treatment centers in affected areas but has repeatedly warned that the need is far greater than they or other medical caregivers are able to meet. In a statement delivered to United Nations member countries earlier this month, MSF International President Dr. Joanne Liu blasted the international community for failing to take action. "Six months into the worst Ebola epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain it," he said. "Leaders are failing to come to grips with this transnational threat."