The U.S. Embassy in Liberia was collectively sad to say farewell to our Ambassador Christine Elder last month without the traditional leave takings and formalities someone would normally have after serving the United States and advancing the U.S.-Liberia relationship so steadfastly for nearly four years. As Chargé d’affaires during the current COVID-19 pandemic, I am deeply grateful for the strong and enduring partnerships that the U.S. Mission has in this country — with the Government of Liberia, with the diplomatic community, the United Nations and other donor partners, and with Liberian civil society, faith-based organizations and the private sector. I am equally appreciative of the profound people-to-people ties between Americans and Liberians. Through these wide-ranging partnerships, my colleagues and I at the U.S. Mission are working hard every day to support Liberia’s COVID-19 response efforts and to diminish as much as possible the impact of this disease on Liberia’s economic and political development going forward.
Having served in the U.S. Mission since September 2018 as Deputy to the Ambassador, I did not experience the country’s 2014-16 Ebola epidemic, but I have heard first-hand from Liberians of the devastation that Ebola caused. I have also learned of the resilience, determination, and bravery with which Liberians met and ultimately defeated it. As the world confronts COVID-19, Liberia has many best practices and institutional structures already established. Liberia has community health workers and public health professionals throughout the country who are experienced and capable. Handwashing and other precautionary measures are well-known to Liberians, as is community engagement in public health education and awareness raising. Liberians also know the pain of stigmatization because of infection, and the importance of encouraging, not deterring, testing. I urged everyone to always follow the safety strategies that will help protect you, your families, and your communities: wash your hands frequently and carefully, practice physical distancing of at least six feet as much as possible, wear a face mask if available and abide by the difficult but necessary lockdown measures that will stop the spread of COVID-19. Working collaboratively with its international partners, Liberia is well-positioned to fight COVID-19 so long as its government and people are unified and committed.
Fighting COVID-19 is now our top priority at the U.S. Embassy. We look to your health officials and experts – doctors, nurses, laboratory scientists and technicians, community health specialists, public health institutions and professionals, and hospital and clinic administrators and staff – for their advice and cooperation. We count on the Government ministries and agencies as well as the civil society organizations with whom we work to maintain the highest standards of accountability and transparency. We want our resources to have maximum impact and to complement the efforts and initiatives of the government and of other donor partners and organizations. I am very pleased to highlight an additional $1 million for USAID Liberia programs that will provide critical aid for all 15 Liberian counties — including support to the counties for response activities, identification and testing of suspect cases, and contact tracing. It will support community engagement and risk communication using local partners who can most effectively deliver messages about prevention and testing. This funding will also support quarantine efforts. I note that over the past two decades, the United States has been the largest contributor to Liberia’s health sector, laying a strong foundation for Liberia’s COVID-19 response through more than $4 billion in total assistance, including more than $675 million in health assistance.
Our U.S. Mission health team is comprised of representatives of multiple U.S. agencies and departments, including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration and the Department of Defense. While these U.S. agencies are channeling funding to programs intended to strengthen Liberia’s health system and improve the health of all Liberians, I emphasize that our assistance efforts consist of more than money and supplies. Our health experts are providing technical assistance and collaboration on the ground — every day and every hour — that is foundational to our support. I am confident that the strong ties between our health professionals and institutions will serve Liberia’s COVID-19 response efforts, as they have underpinned the successful responses to Ebola and other life-threatening diseases in Liberia. While we cannot minimize the size of the challenge that COVID-19 presents to Liberia, to the United States and to the world, we can take heart and courage from the work accomplished so far and from our commitment to conquering this deadly disease together.