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Ebola puts Liberia's postwar progress in jeopardy-Nobel laureate

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 6 Aug 2014 15:11 GMT
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Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, gestures during an interview with Reuters in the Grand Hotel in Oslo December 10, 2011. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
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LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The spread of Ebola in Liberia threatens to undo the country's postwar progress unless more funds are found to fight the deadly virus, Nobel laureate and rights activist Leymah Gbowee warned on Wednesday.

More than 900 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have been killed by Ebola and more than 1,600 infected since the virus started spreading in Guinea in February.

The crisis prompted the three West African states to announce tough measures last week to contain the disease - including shutting schools and imposing quarantines on victims' homes - amid fears the virus could overrun healthcare systems that lack even the most basic equipment.

Writing in the Guardian, Gbowee said the Liberian government's "slapdash" response to Ebola had helped the spread of the virus, which threatened the gains the country has made since the end of the 1989-2003 civil war.

"Ebola is resurrecting old traumas for Liberians who survived the war," wrote Gbowee, who shared the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize with Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf for their work defending women's rights during the war.

"Those with the right passports are able to leave. Those with resources can buy soap and protective gear to keep safe. But people cannot conduct their business as usual.

"My brave sisters, who protested along with me against the civil war, are back again. Clothed in white T-shirts, they gather together to pray for a reprieve and offer passersby water with which to wash their hands," Gbowee said.

She also noted that Liberia's few health resources were so focused on tackling the Ebola outbreak that other ailments were being neglected.

"Before the outbreak, Liberia had fewer than 300 doctors for a population of 3.5 million people. With so few doctors to care for Ebola victims, non-related ailments are overlooked. For children and the elderly, treatable diseases are much more deadly," she said.

Gbowee also described how a pregnant friend was turned away from a hospital last week and forced to give birth outside the maternity ward.

"People need direct funds to care for their families as the government scrambles to create a cohesive health response network where none existed before," she said.

Gbowee's comments were published a day after Liberian officials said relatives of Ebola victims were leaving bodies in the streets rather than face quarantine in the ramshackle ocean-front capital Monrovia.

(Editing by Tim Pearce; timothy.pearce@thomsonreuters.com)

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