Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf paid emotional tribute Thursday to the American people for their help in battling Ebola and vowed her country would now get back on its feet.
“America responded, you did not run from Liberia,” she told US lawmakers, expressing the “profound gratitude” of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone in helping to combat the worst outbreak of the deadly virus.
“Ebola robbed us of our human need to care and to be cared for,” Sirleaf said, adding the epidemic had “stretched the sacred bonds of families, friends and communities to the breaking point.
“With each painful death the hopes of a nation only recently regenerated after years of war and destruction faded, to be replaced by understandable doubt and fear.”
Liberia, once the country worst hit by Ebola, has registered 4,037 of around 9,600 deaths in the epidemic, which began in Guinea in December 2013.
At its height in the final four months of last year, Liberia and Sierra Leone were recording between 300 and 550 confirmed, suspect and probable cases a week.
It was in some of the darkest days in August when the Liberian leader said she reached out to US President Barack Obama and to the US Congress amid “grim and terrifying” international predictions that before the end of January at least 20,000 people would die every month.
“Liberians experienced the chilling effect of stigmatization and abandonment,” Sirleaf said, adding “the future of Liberia’s peace and democratic stability — whose foundations we had diligently established — thanks to this virus appeared tenuous and fragile.”
But with US help, including a military force which reached 2,800 personnel at one point, there are now only one to three new infections each week in Liberia.
“We are chasing the very last element of the chain of transmission we have,” Sirleaf said, praising all the international and regional military and aid workers who “reached beyond their fears and ran towards the danger and not from it.”
“We can neither rest nor lift our foot off the gas,” Sirleaf admitted, adding “we are determined to get to zero cases by April 15.”
But she acknowledged that with the country’s economy ravaged and the health system strained, there was a long road ahead.
“Travelling that last mile to zero will be the most difficult because the disease has retreated and must now be chased down in every single country.”
But she vowed: “Ebola is no longer an unknown predator hunting the Liberian people. Thanks to your support we are now hunting Ebola.”