Former Liberian President Talks Global United Effort

It was only a few years ago that several countries in western Africa faced the deadly Ebola virus. The disease reached Texas before it was brought under control, thanks to a united global effort. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and was Liberia’s president during the Ebola outbreak. She joins the program to discuss the importance of international unity in fighting a virus.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Give me an idea about what you faced when Ebola started in Liberia and how long it took to actually gather a united front to fight it.

ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF, FORMER LIBERIAN PRESIDENT: Thank you, Christiane. It`s good to be talking to you once again. We faces — when Ebola struck us, we faced fear, fear of the unknown. That led us to take some action that in effect were missteps. We quickly had to correct that action to be able to admit to our misstep we had to communicate properly to our citizens information that gave them confidence to be able to comply with the restrictions and the approaches that we took to combat the virus. The response was very slow. First, our own response, because of a lack of knowledge. Lack of weak health care systems and the resources, financial and capacity that`s required to fight the virus. The response from our partners, slow because, again, there were one to three west African countries battling with something they didn`t know, not having the means to be able to fight it. It took a while, but it did come. And when we got the support —

AMANPOUR: OK. So, I`m going to —

SIRLEAF: — my effort, the letter to the world, and, you know, telephone conversation with the president of the United States. Go ahead, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: No. Actually, I was going to get into that, but I just want to ask you, before I dive into how you made that letter to the world and then got the united front with the U.S. and the rest of the major global organizations, just want to ask you whether now, those lessons and that experience is helping Liberia, which I believe has 20 deaths, which is not a huge number, maybe they`re newer numbers, but is what you learned then being implemented now?

SIRLEAF: Yes, it is. Liberia`s response to COVID-19 is as good as it can be with the available resources that they have. They have already put into place the necessary protocols, using the examples of Ebola. They`ve established a coordinating mechanism, as we did in the case of Ebola. And I believe they`ve started to mobilize partnership support by reaching out to their major bilateral, multilateral partners who are responding.

About This Episode EXPAND

Christiane speaks with former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf about the importance of international unity in fighting a virus. She also speaks with European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni about whether Europe should open for the summer and Dr. Boris Lushniak, former U.S. Acting Surgeon General. Walter Isaacson speaks with Sarah Lewis about the power of photography.