2014: Liberia's Ebola nightmare

The deadly virus has claimed 3,384 lives in Liberia alone

The deadly virus has claimed 3,384 lives in Liberia alone

MONROVIA – Liberia, a mineral-rich West African country, was ravished by the deadly Ebola virus for the greater part of 2014, leaving thousands – many in the prime of their youth – dead and brining all aspects of life and economy to an almost standstill.

The contagious disease – for which there is no known treatment or cure – has killed 7,588 people worldwide in recent month.

The deadly virus has claimed 3,384 lives in Liberia alone.

The first Ebola infection was reported in March in Lofa County in northern Liberia.

Following the official confirmation, campaigns were launched on social media and local television stations to alert the public to the dangers of the virus.

Liberia's troubles started a few weeks later when Health Minister Walter Gwenigale claimed that there was no Ebola in the country and that the situation was under control.

People went about their normal activities, businesses were open, concession companies were well on course with their operations and Liberians, including cross-border trade women, continued to travel to and back from neighboring Guineas and Sierra Leone, were Ebola was also spreading.

By June dozens of people began to die in Lofa, which became the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak.

The deaths drew attention, but still the government took no concrete action to contain the situation, by which time many health workers were already dying of the virus.

There was no clearly defined strategy by the government on how

to deal with the outbreak.

In July, Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian Finance Ministry official, traveled to Nigeria where he tested Ebola positive and later died.

His death drew angry criticism and condemnations of the Liberian government for transmitting the deadly virus to Nigeria.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had to apologize to her Nigerian counterpart Goodluck Jonathan and the people of Nigeria.

After Sawyer's death the Liberian government immediately swung into action, setting up a national Ebola taskforce chaired by Sirleaf herself.

On August 5, Sirleaf announced a raft of measures to contain the deadly virus which included the closure of borders and all schools and the imposition of a curfew.

Liberians were ordered to watch their hands regularly with soap and clean water.

They were asked to avoid traditional burial ceremonies and report sick people to the health authorities.

At the time, Liberia only had three Ebola treatment units which were soon flooded by patients.

Dozens of sick people were turned away over lack of beds.

They were taken back by their relatives to their local communities where they later died and were buried, thus extended the chain of the virus transmission.

The death toll continued to surge across Liberia up to September by which time the virus had spread to all the country's 15 counties.

Another dark day for Liberia came in late September when Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who had traveled to the U.S. to visit relatives, was

diagnosed with Ebola and later died there.

Duncan's death – the second time Liberians had transported the deadly virus to another country – triggered a firestorm.

Liberians living in the US and other world countries started being stigmatized.

Failing to contain the virus, President Sirleaf wrote an open letter to the international community and US President Barrack Obama asking for support.

China sent one-million-dollar worthy of medical supplies and personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.

Aid also came from Canada, the African Union, the African Development Bank, Norway and others.

Obama decided to send American troops and equipment to help Liberia fight the deadly virus.

Their mandate was to open Ebola labs in Liberia, which only had two testing centers; build 17 Ebola treatment units; train healthcare workers and help the Liberian government strengthen its overall Ebola strategy.

Ebola cases declined drastically since November with only four out of Liberia's 15 counties still reporting infections.

-Changing Cultures-

The killer virus has changed many social habits in the West African country.

Liberians no longer shake hands, one of the country’s long-standing cultural practices.

Many families who lost relatives to Ebola no longer practiced the traditional burial ceremonies – which typically include body washing touching.

Instead, Ebola victims were buried by government burial teams.

Worst still for many Liberians, dead relatives later had their bodies cremated by the government to contain the spread of Ebola.

The cremation of dead bodies had never been practiced by Liberians, not

even during the country's 14-year civil war.

Schools remain closed across the country while economic activities and trading have been brought to a virtual standstill.

Several airlines have stopped operating flights to and from Liberia.

The social lives of Liberians were also impacted with the government banning people from spending holidays at the beach as customary.

Football matches were suspended and video clubs and entertainment centers were forced to close early.

A special senatorial election scheduled for October 14 was postponed and only held on December 20.

It was the first time Liberians went to the polls during the Christmas season and the turnout was markedly low.

Although President Sirleaf had set as a goal containing Ebola before the end of 2014, fewer Liberians continue to fall prey to the deadly virus.

Copyright © 2014 Anadolu Agency