Connections in Atlanta are playing a key role in assisting the West African nation of Liberia as it recovers from the health and economic fallout of COVID-19.
Just how central the city has been to the relief and recovery initiatives was evident during a Sept. 9 webinar organized by Honorary Liberian Consul General Cynthia Blandford, who has coordinated some of the efforts from her base here.
Ms. Blandford brought together a panel of officials including the Liberian consul general in New York and Ambassador George S.W. Patten Sr. in Washington, who outlined how Congress, the State Department and USAID have sent help during a trying time for the country of 4 million.
Mr. Patten said the Liberia COVID-19 response plan began as a prevention effort in February, morphing into a mitigation strategy after the virus penetrated the country’s borders.
A national health emergency was declared March 22 after the first locally transmitted case, with the airport (a sister airport with Atlanta) closing down and President George Weah introducing a state of emergency with the approval of the legislature the following month. All schools and religious facilities were shut, with the government operating at 25 percent capacity until things began to reopen in June.
The ambassador said help from the World Food Programme and other philanthropic outfits was especially crucial considering the “debilitating” economic crisis facing a resource-rich country that had been projecting stable growth for the next few years.
“That has all been wiped out now by the outbreak of the pandemic,” the ambassador said, noting that the situation had “enhanced social vulnerabilities.”
He publicly thanked Ambassador Andrew Young, also present on the call, for his Atlanta-based foundation’s help in donating to the Liberian health ministry a large consignment of Selenium, a mineral supplement made from an element prevalent in West Africa that Mr. Young said is thought to bolster the immune system. The former Atlanta mayor is a strong proponent of increased scientific study of the health benefits of indigenous African herbs. His foundation also played a role in fighting Liberia’s Ebola outbreak in 2013.
Mr. Patten also pointed listeners to a website the Liberian government has set up to track donations of cash and in-kind items, hoping to position them for matching grants from the private sector.
With the African Union projecting some 20 million job losses in the formal economy due to COVID-19, many in Liberia and beyond are calling for timely investment from diaspora communities globally.
“I think it’s a mindset issue,” said Jackson George, who leads the Liberian Business Association in the Diaspora and serves as honorary consul general in Minnesota. “My plea to Liberians in the diaspora is to make an intentional effort to understand that we must contribute to our homeland.”
While the country should continue to welcome foreign investors, diaspora members should make a point to contribute their skills and resources, he said, especially now.
“Only Liberians can ultimately redevelop Liberia,” Mr. George said.
The Atlanta-based Liberian Nurses Association USA is doing just that, collaborating with the 14th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which covers much of West Africa, to collect and distribute personal protective gear.
The AME Church’s women’s missionary society has already helped sew and send 20,000 masks, said Bishop E. Earl McCloud Jr., who presides over the 14th district from Atlanta.
In addition to raising funds specifically for COVID-19 relief, Mr. McCloud said the church is also continuing to financially support its churches in the rural areas outside Monrovia, which are helping alleviate hunger and provide emotional support for communities.
That said, the AME University in the capital city continues to constitute a strong link (and a key investment) for the church in the country.
“The wonderful people of Liberia really want to learn. they want to study and we want to be guilty of helping to provide those kinds of opportunities,” Mr. McCloud said.
Liberia now has recorded 1,327 cases and 82 deaths from the virus, but the fight has taken a toll in a country where the health care system remains under-resourced. Mr. Weah this week pledged stricter measures against sexual and gender-based violence in the wake of an rise in rapes over the summer.
The Carter Center in Atlanta, which has a history of helping develop Liberia’s mental health capacity, has also assisted the country in responding to COVID-19, bolstering contact tracing, providing technical support and amplifying stay-at-home orders, among other initiatives.
To watch the full Facebook Live event, visit the Liberian Consulate’s page or view below:
To learn more about how to do business in or visit Liberia, visiting the Consulate’s website at http://liberianconsulatega.com.
To donate to the Liberian Private Sector Donations Platform, click here.