President Obama on Friday hosted Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the Oval Office, praising her leadership in successfully combating the Ebola outbreak and vowing that the U.S. would keep fighting the deadly disease elsewhere in West Africa.
“Because of the Ebola crisis we saw the kinds of death and destruction of an entire country, an entire region of the sort we haven’t seen very often in modern history,” Mr. Obama said, according to a press pool report.
“What is extraordinary, because of President Sirleaf’s leadership, because of the heroism of so many people in Liberia and because of the actions of the United States and also the international community, we have made extraordinary strides,” he said. “Normal life is beginning to return to Liberia. Children are beginning to go back to school People are beginning to go back to soccer matches. Businesses have reopened.”
Mrs. Sirleaf thanked “the American people” for their critical help in fighting the outbreak, singling out the U.S. military that Mr. Obama sent to aide the public health offensive.
“That made a critical difference,” she said.
“We know that there was fear in this country and we understood that because we were fearful ourselves,” Mrs. Sirleaf said. “We did not know how to confront this unknown enemy.”
Indeed, Americans were alarmed when a few cases occurred in the U.S. and leveled criticism at Mr. Obama’s response to the threat. The outbreak ultimately was contained in the U.S.
Liberia was at the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak, with more than 4,000 of the estimated 9,600 deaths in the epidemic, which began in Guinea in December 2013.
At its height in the final four months of last year, Liberia and Sierra Leone were recording between 300 and 550 confirmed, suspect and probable cases a week, Agence France-Presse said.
But with U.S. help, including a military force that reached 2,800 personnel, Liberia today records only one to three new infections each week.
The U.S. military deployment has since ended.
Both the leaders warned that the Ebola battle is not over, as outbreaks continue in neighboring countries such as Guinea and Sierra Leone.
“Our job is not yet done,” Mr. Obama said.
He pledged continued assistance to the region to “make sure we are not complacent so long there is even one case of Ebola remaining.”
Mr. Obama also cited the need to address economic dislocation caused by the Ebola scourge that could last for years.
Liberia, a nation founded by freed American slaves, also is in the midst of a highly tenuous political confrontation, including warring factions that are sparking concerns of a another civil war.
“We are not there yet,” Mrs. Sirleaf said.