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UNICEF Airlifts Supplies to Liberia

A woman sits with a baby, in the West Point area that has been hardest hit by the Ebola virus spreading in Monrovia, Liberia, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014. A Liberian doctor who was among three Africans to receive an experimental Ebola drug has died, the country's information minister said Monday. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)

The U.N. children’s fund – UNICEF – has begun airlifting emergency supplies to Liberia, the country hardest hit by the West Africa Ebola epidemic. A cargo plane carrying nearly 70 metric tons arrived in Monrovia on Saturday.

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UNICEF’s Representative in Liberia Sheldon Yetts says the supplies are needed to bolster protection against the Ebola virus.

“The largest component of the supplies was chlorine. And chlorine is a key ingredient here used for disinfection, which as you might imagine in the circumstances in Liberia is needed in all health centers and is needed in Ebola treatment centers,” he said.

The shipment included 27 metric tons of chlorine in all.

Yetts said, “We also had ORS, oral rehydration salts. We also had sodium lactate, which is also used to help ensure people are rehydrated. And we had about 900,000 gloves, which of course is also very important for infection control. The shipment also includes read-to-use therapeutic food, which is helpful for patients, who are undergoing treatment, and other basic supplies.”

The U.S. Agency for International Development – USAID – helped to pay for the first flight. Also, the agency’s Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team is helping with delivery.

Yetts said another plane load of supplies is expected in Monrovia Tuesday. The second flight is supported by the Liberian government and World Bank.

“UNICEF is supporting the effort, making arrangements. And ensuring supplies are purchased at the most competitive costs. But this is a government-driven airlift,” he said.”

The second flight will bring more chlorine and emergency supplies to protect health workers and civilians alike.

“Health workers have suffered a disproportionate number of casualties from Ebola. We need to make sure that health centers are disinfected so the health centers are safe. And that people in Liberia feel free and safe to return to health centers. There are many, many other diseases, of course, that are endemic here. Cholera is here. Malaria is here and many common diseases. We don’t want people dying from preventable diseases because they don’t feel safe to use health services,” said Yetts.

More airlifts will be carried out in the coming weeks to Liberia.

But Yetts said despite the airlifts, a lot more personnel and supplies are needed.

“We really need more boots on the ground. We need more support from our technical partners. And we need more resources. I’ve been in emergencies all around the world and I’ve been struck at how slow resources have been in coming here. We need additional support. Not just financial support, but also technical capacity. We work hand in hand with our NGO partners all around the world. We need them to come here to Liberia, too.”

Yetts said the Ebola outbreak has generated a lot of fear, but he says medical workers can safely work in the country. He said UNICEF is taking a leading role in a multi-media awareness campaign in Liberia.

“We’ve got teams going door-to-door in the most effected counties of the country. We’ve got radio campaigns going on in various languages. We’ve got pop songs on the radio giving the message. We’ve got one minute plays that are being produced. So, we’re using every avenue we can to make sure people understand what they can do to keep themselves safe from Ebola and what they can do to stop the spread of the disease.”

UNICEF is also providing motorcycles so community health workers can travel to many Liberian communities.

More than 600 people have died of Ebola in Liberia.