- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2015

Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf wants Americans to know she’s grateful for the help so far but her country’s battle with the deadly Ebola epidemic is far from over.

A day before meeting with President Obama at the White House, Ms. Sirleaf used a Capitol Hill address to express her gratitude to the Obama administration for its aid. Speaking Thursday at an event hosted by Sen. Chris Coons, Delaware Democrat, and the U.S. Institute of Peace, she expressed her hope that the U.S. would continue to provide support in areas of infrastructure improvement such as roads, electricity and health care as countries of the region struggle to rebuild.

Although the Ebola crisis in the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea has mostly ended, Ms. Sirleaf said a major task remained in rebuilding the region and preparing for further outbreaks. On her first visit to the U.S. since the crisis began, she appealed for support from the U.S. government and increased private investment from American corporations.

“We must now return to rebuilding Liberia’s peace and prosperity, even as we eliminate the threat of Ebola,” Ms. Sirleaf said, “This requires updating the health care system, including and early-warning system that integrates the public and private sectors.”

Liberia was one of the countries to be most affected by the Ebola outbreak, with more than 4,057 deaths out of the total 9,637 reported by the Center for Disease Control in conjunction with the World Health Organization.

As the country has managed to contain the reach of the epidemic, Liberia has reopened border crossings, and lifted its nighttime curfew. Despite these actions, Ms. Sirleaf stressed the importance of maintaining control over the outbreak and being cautious in light of continued occurrences of the virus in neighboring countries.

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Liberia also recently reopened more than 4,400 schools which had been closed since August. On Wednesday Ms. Sirleaf visited with members of the U.S. Agency for International Development, who announced that the agency would provide Liberia with $18.7 million in an “Education Crisis Response” program to assist the nation in restoring its school system after the Ebola crisis.

“The United States’ commitment to Liberia is longstanding,” said USAID Acting Administrator Al Lenhardt, “and will remain so after the Ebola outbreak is eliminated. This program will help build resilience to future crises while affording children and youth greater economic opportunities for a brighter future.”

Ms. Sirleaf said that secure borders must be maintained to prevent Ebola from returning to Liberia from Sierra Leone and Guinea, but that assistance must be provided to the neighboring nations in order to completely eradicate the virus.

WHO reports that the decline of Ebola cases in Sierra Leone has halted, and that a large amount of cases are still being reported in Guinea. In both countries, nearly 400 new cases have been confirmed in the last 21 days.

Mr. Coons echoed Ms. Sirleaf’s message about the need for continued U.S. support in completely stamping out the Ebola danger.

“It is not over, some of the hardest work remains in getting to zero,” said Delaware lawmaker.

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Although the Obama administration has withdrawn U.S. troops sent to Liberia to provide aid, Mr. Coons and Ms. Sirleaf said they hope that the U.S. can continue to provide nonmilitary support in areas of health care, medical transportation, sanitation and electricity.

• Jonathan Soch can be reached at jsoch@washingtontimes.com.

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