Liberian President speaks at Ebola Crisis Symposium in ICC

Hundreds of students, faculty, and global health representatives packed into the ICC auditorium yesterday for a Symposium on the Ebola Crisis. While experts in international health, public policy, African studies, and global health development institutions attempted to explain the complexities of this crisis, a live video interview with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf brought the realities of this outbreak to Georgetown.

While experts explained the scientific, economic, and political impacts of the crisis, Sirleaf emphasized the challenge of getting through to local Liberian communities, where citizens continue to resort to spiritual and religious anecdotes over medical treatment.

“We still see some families that are not ready to turn in their loved ones, even when they see signs of the disease,” Sirleaf said.

Though still weary of the challenge of beating the quickly spreading disease, Sirleaf communicated her appreciation of the United State’s efforts to send troops, health care workers, supplies, and infrastructure for new hospitals.

“We want to express extreme gratitude to President Obama and the United States for this effort,” she said. “As we’re building these facilities [however], people are dying. People are dying by the hundreds everyday. It’s a question of when we can get ahead of this acceleration.”

In addition to the many dying from Ebola, Sirleaf emphasized that many are dying from other diseases, due to a lack of health facilities and workers.

“We have a healthcare system that’s in stress,” she said. “Most of our health facilities are not functional.”

While the economy is in decline and the operations of basic professions have either stopped or slowed, Sirleaf is calling on international organizations to help stimulate economic growth.

“The immediate step is to put pressure on the airlines and the shipping companies to stop ostracizing us so that we can reduce costs and so that we can have better goods and services for people to return to the country,” she said.

Sirleaf then called on the Georgetown community to monitor the value and progress of the country. “It could be a good case study,” Sirlead said. “Two years later, give us a report!”

While the CDC is predicting that 1.4 million people could be infected with the disease by January, President Sirleaf refuses to accept the projections for the country’s sharp growth rate decline.

“I will be right that we will overcome Ebola and the economy will bounce back,” Sirleaf said. She then smiled, looked into the camera, and said, “Challenge me.”

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