By Dr. Raj Panjabi, CEO of Last Mile Health
Today, the World Health Organization declared Liberia Ebola-free. While noting “flare-ups” of the virus are anticipated, no cases have been reported for at least 42 days in Liberia and neighboring Guinea.
This is a day to celebrate. It is also a day to remember.
Today, we remember the over 11,000 people who lost their lives in West Africa. Today, we remember the ongoing stigma faced by survivors. And today, we remember over 500 fellow health workers – some of them friends – who sacrificed their lives. We honor the suffering, courage and sacrifices of the Liberian people and the Last Mile Health team during this long struggle.
A little over a year ago, I stood in a mud hut with a members of the Last Mile Health team and local health workers – nurses, midwives and community health workers – in a village in Rivercess County, Liberia. Alongside the Ministry of Health and many partners, we trained and equipped these brave health workers with masks, gloves, and gowns so they could respond to an outbreak.
An outbreak had erupted in Kayah, a remote community cut off from roads, communication and electricity. A woman there had just died of Ebola. With no access to health workers and safe burial techniques, over a dozen people in the community who attended her funeral died soon after.
Outbreaks like this were spreading like wildfire all over West Africa. At the time, the global community was told as many as 1.4 million people could be infected within weeks if the epidemic was not contained. We were told the majority of people infected would die. Even during the Liberian civil war, we never heard projections that horrific.
Ebola made us feel frail. But it is through sharing in our frailties that we came together. And together, we found the strength to fight back.
Together with partners, we collectively trained and equipped thousands of frontline health workers. These courageous health workers risked their lives to go door-to-door to find the sick and refer them to care. They hunted down this virus and helped stop it in its tracks.
Today, because of our efforts and the efforts of hundreds of caregivers across Liberia, Ebola has been controlled. I am deeply grateful for the support and service of our partners. This epidemic has taught us that we as people are not defined by the crises that strike our lives. We are defined by how we respond to them.
The fight is not over. Ebola reminds us that illness is universal, but access to care is not. It reminds us why our mission, our passion, our work matters now more than ever. We must continue to demand a health worker for everyone, everywhere, everyday. That’s the only real response to crises like Ebola and to the everyday crisis of premature death around the world.
If we are defined by our response, then our response must be defined by how far we’re willing to go to reach this goal. I am proud to work with a team and partners willing to go as far as it takes – everyday.