As Ebola resurfaces, Liberia focuses on staying at zero cases

Jul 10, 2015

Anne Benson sells used clothes in Waterside Market in Monrovia. Following the Ebola outbreak and qurantine in Liberia, vendors struggle with plummeting sales and rising costs for transporting goods to the market.
Photo: Morgana Wingard/UNDP

When a new Ebola case was confirmed in Liberia, almost two months after the country was declared free from active transmission of the virus, the country’s active case finders spurred into action.

During the acute phase of the outbreak, UNDP supported a team of 5,000 of them operating in the nation’s capital, Monrovia, and the surrounding area of Montserrado County. As the fresh cases appeared in the neighbouring county of Margibi, the closest team immediately shared their vehicles and helped to trace the contacts of the infected people.

“It is vital that we break the chain of infection as rapidly as possible, by identifying all contacts and monitoring them closely for signs and symptoms of the disease,” said Eric Opoku, a UNDP expert on community engagement. “We have learned a lot about effective infection prevention and con-trol in this part of the world and we are again putting that knowledge into practice.”

Building on their experiences during the outbreak, the teams began to work with the Margibi Coun-ty health team to support the local community as a fresh quarantine began, identifying trusted local community members to go door-to-door in the affected neighbourhoods, tracing contacts and re-minding people of how to protect themselves.

While the case finders mobilize to deal with the new cases, UNDP is also dealing with the aftermath of the acute phase of the outbreak. In the coming weeks UNDP will be distributing solar lanterns to the most vulnerable families in and out of quarantine. With poor infrastructure making electricity in Liberia the most expensive in the world, just 0.6% of Monrovians have access to mains electricity. Outside of the capital, the supply is even worse.

The solar powered lanterns, donated by Panasonic, are the only source of bright light for many households. Children who used to do schoolwork by candle light find that they can see more clear-ly. One hundred lamps have been distributed so far and 1,000 more are due to be handed out.

Abdullah Wesseh, who lives in the poor West Point neighbourhood of Monrovia, lost her son and daughter-in-law to Ebola. She now looks after four grandchildren, aged between two and eleven.

In the evenings she entertains the children by telling them stories by the light of a solar-powered lantern. “Most people don’t want to come around here anymore,” she said, “They are afraid.” The light gives the family some comfort in the evenings and allows them to see more than with the can-dles they used before.

Wesseh still sees active case finders on a regular basis as they continue to work in the communities, providing informal psychological support and practical help in accessing legal counsel and sources of help with expenses like school fees.

As part of its on-going work to support Liberia in the recovery phase, UNDP will launch a pro-gramme to help the most vulnerable people in society to get back on their feet economically. Many families have lost their main breadwinner to the disease, and amongst those who have survived, hundreds have lost their jobs. During the outbreak, people who sold fruit and vegetables in open air markets were unable to replenish their stock.

UNDP will target 3,000 of the most vulnerable households in Bong County, which shares a border with Guinea, for a cash safety net. Even before the outbreak, this county had the largest proportion of people living below the poverty line in Liberia. In addition to cash, the project will offer literacy, numeracy and enterprise skills training to those taking part to give them more opportunities to earn a living over the long term.

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