President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says strong and concerted regional support with help from international partners is needed to achieve a robust recovery program, similar to what she called a ”Marshall Plan” that will demand huge resource allocation.
According to a Dispatch from Brussels, Belgium, the Liberian leader, who spoke Tuesday on behalf of the three most affected Ebola countries (Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone) at the European Union high-level Ebola Conference, said over the past decade, the three affected Mano River Union (MRU) countries made significant gains in the process of reconstruction after years of conflict.
She stressed that as a result of the Ebola outbreak, families and communities were torn apart, and doctors, teachers, mothers, religious leaders and other opinion leaders were greatly affected, while the disease robbed the communities of its ability to care for its own people.
The Liberian leader indicated that the countries’ health systems collapsed when health care workers, nurses and doctors died, trying to treat the sick, not knowing the nature of the disease they were dealing with.
She said that airlines suspended operations, borders were closed, public gatherings restricted, farms and markets ceased activities, schools closed, investors fled and commercial activities plummeted, fiscal balances weakened as revenue fell and expenditure increased largely on health operations.
The Liberian leader said the overall economic activities declined as a result, GDP projection for 2014 across the region at 7.3 percent reduced to 2.5 percent, adding that forecast may deteriorate even further this year.
She said despite the situation, the region has made significant progress in containing the virus. President Sirleaf said economic activity is gradually returning, cross border markets are once again working, farmers are back on their farms, preparing for planting season, and schools are again opening.
The President recalled that at an Extraordinary Summit of the MRU in Conakry on February 15, the three countries agreed on a common strategy to get to zero Ebola infection within 60 days by April 15, and added that achieving this is a major challenge, but it focuses on infection prevention and control, social mobilization, community engagement, cross border surveillance, collaboration and coordination.
The Liberian leader urged members of the international community and partners to support common but differentiated country strategies for the reopening and strengthening of healthcare systems that will minimize the risk of recurrence of the virus.
She said a long term response to Ebola rests in the region’s economic recovery plans, which focus on private sector-led growth, expanding and attracting investment with the highest potential to create large number of sustainable jobs and support the expansion of Small and Medium Scale Enterprises.
The President particularly thanked the international community for their support throughout the Ebola outbreak and expressed gratitude to the managements of Brussels Airlines, Royal Air Maroc and Air France for maintaining their flights to the three most affected countries, as well as Air Cote D’Ivoire, for resuming flights to the region recently.
Opening the Conference, Her Royal Highness Queen Mathilde of the Kingdom of Belgium welcomed participants and pledged Belgium’s support to the three most affected countries in making sure that the Ebola disease is eliminated from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Queen Mathilde called for international support to the three countries in ending the Ebola scourge.