Since as early as 1961, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided crucial support for the sub-Saharan country of Liberia in key areas such as democracy, human rights and governance, global health, education, economic growth and country development cooperation strategy. Liberia is among the world’s poorest countries, with half of its population living below the global poverty line. USAID is the governmental body primarily responsible for administering developmental assistance and foreign aid on behalf of the United States government. The U.S. is currently the largest bilateral donor in Liberia and is taking a leading role in combating extreme poverty in the region through USAID programs in Liberia.
The Ebola Crisis
One of USAID’s most important programs in Liberia in recent years was leading the global effort to combat the outbreak of the Ebola virus in the country in 2014-15. Ebola was particularly devastating in Liberia, with over 10,600 confirmed, or probable, cases during this period and 4,810 deaths. With an overwhelming lack of health care infrastructure, Liberia was unable to tackle the containment of the disease without support from USAID. For Liberia’s poorest, particularly those based in the capital city, Monrovia, Ebola proved a particularly deadly disease, with little support available for those who became infected and little protection from the disease’s rapid spread.
USAID programs in Liberia worked in partnership with other international organizations, leading a U.S. Government effort to contain the spread of the disease and eventually bring the number of cases down to zero. Contact tracing was implemented in all 15 of Liberia’s counties. In West Point, Monrovia, one of the worst affected areas, an Incident Management System was installed, allowing for rapid diagnosis, treatment and prevention of further spread of the virus.
Since USAID’s involvement in combating Ebola in 2014-15, it has continued to work with the country to ensure that Liberia is not only better prepared for outbreaks of deadly diseases in the future, but is able to implement robust health care infrastructure for all manner of contagious diseases and health issues. Between 2015 and 2021, USAID supported the Government of Liberia’s Investment Plan for Building a Resilient Health System in Liberia.
Other Infectious Diseases
Other infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, neonatal and diarrheal diseases continue to be a major problem for Liberia as some of the leading causes of death, often affecting the country’s poorest the worst. The prevalence of these diseases among Liberia’s poor has been attributed in large part to a lack of access to water sanitation and hygiene (WASH). USAID programs in Liberia have played an important role in supporting high-impact WASH interventions in Liberia. For example, USAID programs in Liberia are providing key support to the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation to provide an improved water supply to 90% of the population of three country capitals in Liberia: Robertsport, Sanniquellie and Voinjama, reaching an estimated 30,000 Liberians.
Aid programs in Liberia, such as those provided by USAID, have had other considerable positive impacts on the country and for Liberia’s poor:
- Since 1990, infant and child mortality has dropped almost 70%, the highest annual reduction rate in all of Africa, sitting at around 5.4% per annum.
- The 2022 World Health Organization (WHO) annual report on Liberia noted the “significant achievements towards improving the health and well-being of the people in Liberia”.
- Widespread vaccination against the COVID-19 threat, as well as continued efforts to prevent outbreaks of other infectious diseases such as measles, Lassa fever and monkeypox, highlights the growing presence of infrastructure able to combat the rapid spread of infectious diseases and protect Liberia’s citizens.
- Dr. Clement Lugala Peter, the WHO representative in Liberia, stated that the country was on the right trajectory towards attaining universal health coverage, whereby all of Liberia’s citizens would have access to essential health services, when and where needed and without financial hardships.
However, despite significant improvements, there is still much work to be done. Liberia remains among the world’s worst-ranked in terms of maternal mortality rate, due to a lack of family planning services, the frequency of childbearing before the age of 25 (at around 60%) and the low proportion of births attended to by medical professionals. Furthermore, female mortality in general remains high due to the prevalence of female genital cutting, affecting more than two-thirds of Liberia’s women and girls. But with the work being done by American governmental bodies such as USAID and their programs in Liberia, the future for Liberia’s poorest looks much brighter.
– Eleanor Lomas