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We need effective and collaborative action


President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is the former president of Liberia. We interviewed President Johnson-Sirleaf as part of our #PassTheMic series.

Here’s some of what she had to say.

Reflecting on our experience of dealing with Ebola, we know that a coordinated global response to COVID-19 is important. Isolation in close quarters, internally or internationally, cannot be achieved in this interconnected world of travel and communication.

This was made very evident to us in our Liberian experience. Restraining the movement of people on international borders led to violence and loss of confidence in the government by the people.

The predictions if we do not have a coordinated global response to COVID-19 are quite clear: We will have a recurring virus. So we need a concerted effort to be able to improve healthcare systems, to provide the kinds of support for research, to train healthcare workers and professionals.

For many poor countries that are already suffering from economic decline, you can expect that their conditions will worsen. It will lead to increased lack of public confidence and could lead to violence, upheavals, and political instability.

For a cure of these contagious diseases that travel across borders, we must take action so that they do not affect the global community. All countries face the same risk, so we need to mitigate that through effective and collaborative action.

We need strong global alliances

I would prioritise improving healthcare systems — better training, better wages, and better support for healthcare workers, including community health workers, who are the first responders in any situation.

We also need more research and support for the development of vaccines to ensure that we have the means of prevention for many poor countries. Plus we need to ensure that we provide them with the support to overcome the declines they have already suffered from previous experiences of viruses.

We also need to ensure that global alliances are stronger through cooperation, through proper exchanges among countries. And we need to develop disease control centres in countries in Africa, Latin America, and other places where nations still do not have the means of response.

Because it’s very clear that prevention is much more effective than a cure. So that means more support for things like water, sanitation, and nutrition systems. This will enable countries to be able to develop their self-defense and self-reliance methods, to be able to have better healthcare systems and a healthier population overall.

We also need to see more support for conventional international institutions, such as the United Nations, and regional institutions that are trying to develop control systems. The international groups that have been the major supporters of trying to combat diseases, such as the Global Fund and GAVI, have also been working hard to develop the vaccines.

It comes down to prevention

It may sound like a whole lot when you talk about priorities. But if you unbundle it all, it comes down to prevention, to building the systems that keep a nation and its population healthier and, for a cure, to ensure that the support is there for healthcare systems. These priorities need to be part of the governments themselves, with the support of the international community through global cooperation and alliances.

I think the fact that unlike Ebola, where you dealt only with three poor countries, COVID-19 is a global threat. So in this interdependent world, we expect that this will enhance international concern and international effort to be able to develop a global response.

I also think this will lead to a renewed concern and interests in the systems of countries — political systems, health systems, and recognising the need to reduce the inequities of this world, to ensure no one is left totally behind.

These excerpts from the interview were edited for length and clarity.

Hear more from experts in our #PassTheMic campaign, where global health experts take over celebrities’ social media channels to share the data, facts, and science we need to know to end COVID-19. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for more.

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