1 minute readDisaster, International

Fighting Ebola and Its Stigma in Liberia

Jono in LiberiaThis post was written by Jono Anzalone, an American Red Cross division disaster executive who is on a month-long deployment to Liberia with the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC).

It’s been three weeks since my plane landed in Liberia, where I’m helping the ICRC to put cash in the hands of families impacted by the Ebola virus. In Liberia alone, Ebola has claimed more than 3,600 lives; 178 of whom were health care workers.

Through our program, called Mobile Money, we identify Ebola survivors and families of the deceased and provide a $200 USD cash transfer payment via SMS text messaging. In a country where the average annual income per capita is less than $500 USD, the cash can make a huge difference. Our goal is to serve up to 4,500 families impacted by the virus and restore economic security in the region. Thus far, we have served 800.

Today, we spoke with a woman whose story stuck with me. She recovered from Ebola, but her husband left her due to stigma attached to the disease. She has five children but no income, no home, and no hope. The $200 USD provided her enough to begin a small business where she was able to regain hope for her family, to the point where she no longer had thoughts of taking her own life. While $200 may seem like a drop in the bucket in the United States, the program in Liberia is truly providing another chance at life for those impacted by Ebola.

The ICRC is the part of the global Red Cross network that works in conflict situations. As such, it has been working in Liberia since the 1970s. The ICRC has a unique mandate under the Geneva conventions to protect victims’ lives and health, to ease their plight, and to ensure that the consequences of conflict—disease, injury, hunger or exposure to the elements—do not jeopardize their future. While emergency assistance saves lives and mitigates the worst effects of conflict, the ICRC tries always to keep sight of the ultimate aim of restoring people’s ability to provide for themselves.

Prior to Ebola, the ICRC was active in promoting humanitarian law, making prison detention visits, and providing economic security to the vulnerable. The ICRC has been building on the capacity to deliver essential services, such as the construction or repair of water-supply systems or medical facilities and the training of primary health care staff for years in Liberia, and saw a dire need during the Ebola outbreak to contribute.

I am humbled to be a small part of the global Red Cross network’s role in this lifesaving mission, and want to thank our American Red Cross donors for their support of the Red Cross—knowing that what they do and the support they provide does have a global impact.

Check out redcross.org/ebolaoutbreak for more information about how the Red Cross’s work in West Africa.

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