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Official: Liberia Entering Last Lap in Ebola Crisis

Pedestrians walk past a sign reading "Ebola disease outbreak" outside the Ministry of Finance in Monrovia, Liberia, Jan. 12, 2015.
Pedestrians walk past a sign reading "Ebola disease outbreak" outside the Ministry of Finance in Monrovia, Liberia, Jan. 12, 2015.

A senior Liberian official says most of his country is Ebola-free and he is optimistic that cases of Ebola can be brought down to zero in a matter of weeks.

Ebola cases in Liberia have declined from a peak of more than 300 a week in August to fewer than 10 per week in January.

Liberia’s Minister for Commerce and Industry, Axel Addy, said Monday that 13 of 15 counties now are reporting zero cases of Ebola for 21 days, the period of incubation for the disease.

He said only about 31 patients currently are being treated nationwide in ETUs, or emergency treatment units. He said the dramatic drop in the number of people falling ill from the virus is giving rise to hopes that this menace is nearing its end.

“We think we can make it to zero by end of February [at] the latest. We are very close to that. The border towns are being monitored very closely with Sierra Leone and Guinea and we are working with the teams in those countries to make sure that the cases in those areas do not spread beyond the borders,” said Addy.

Addy attributes this dramatic turnaround to better logistics and greater community participation. He said every county now has ETUs, contact tracing and burial procedures have improved, and the presence of 3,000 U.S. military personnel has helped coordinate international relief efforts.

He told VOA that greater community involvement in actions needed to curb the epidemic has made a huge impact.

“I think once the awareness was elevated and community leaders were brought on board as part of the response, we began to see huge changes in terms of new cases… I think having the community take ownership of the response is one of the big reasons why we have had such a huge drop in the numbers,” said Addy.

While the government appears to be getting on top of the Ebola crisis, Addy notes the epidemic is still hurting the economy. He said the country’s GDP growth has dropped from nearly six percent to less than one percent.

He said the country’s two main industries - iron ore and rubber - have taken a huge hit and it will take years for them to recover.

He said overall, Liberia has lost more than $93 million in revenue because of Ebola.

Nevertheless, Addy said the government and business communities are in the process of wooing back investors now that the epidemic is on the decline.

He said he hopes his country will be able to become a member of the World Trade Organization by the end of the year. He says joining the WTO will help Liberia to diversify its economy so it can become more resilient and better able to deal with future crises when they arise.