At first glance, it's hard to imagine this country has been wracked for nearly a year by one of the deadliest health crises of modern times. Since April 2014, the Ebola virus has silently stalked its citizens, infecting more than 9,000 people
, and thousands more in neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone.
My visit took place while people across the country were cautiously celebrating the first 21-day period without any new cases being reported. Sadly, a new case was reported the day I was leaving Liberia. The patient died a few days later.
The threat of Ebola remains very real. Continued vigilance and strict adherence to safe practices are essential to stamp it out. All it takes is one case to reignite an outbreak that could quickly outpace any response efforts and put thousands more at risk.
While in Liberia, I met members of local communities who have been at the center of the Ebola response. Programs implemented by local partners, including youth groups, teachers and faith leaders, are helping educate the public on how to prevent Ebola transmission and encouraging them to seek immediate medical care in case they experience symptoms.
Nearly 6,000 Liberian teachers have been trained
to undertake door-to-door awareness activities. But these communities must be supported in changing behaviors and ending unhealthy and dangerous practices so there is a stronger, safer future for Liberia's children.
I met 6-year-old Abraham and his father, Ansu Turay. As we sat together, Ansu told me how he lost his wife, two stepdaughters and infant son as well as his wife's father, mother, brother and sister to Ebola. Sadly, it is a story shared by many Liberians.
I also met 18-month-old Jacob, who was visiting a health clinic to be treated for malnutrition. His mother told me Jacob could barely sit up when he first arrived two weeks before because he was so severely malnourished. Jacob is only now receiving treatment because his mother was afraid of taking her baby boy to the health facility, fearing he would contract Ebola.
Thousands of people, such as Jacob and his mother, have had little or no access to adequate health care services because of the outbreak. Even when it was possible for families to visit the very few health facilities that remained open, most were too afraid to seek treatment.
I yearned to reach out and comfort the children and families I met, but I could not because of the strict protocols in place to prevent the spread of Ebola, including a no-touch policy. So we spoke from a few feet away.
I could not help but think of my own son during these conversations. And I was reminded how fortunate he is to have access to good health care and schools, things that are not available to Ansu and thousands of other children.
I also thought of my son while meeting young people who were bravely leading efforts to end the deadly outbreak, helping to raise awareness on how to prevent the spread of Ebola.
And this is where the solution lies. Every one of us can and should do our utmost in the fight against Ebola, so that one day soon we can all celebrate with Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone as they are declared Ebola-free.
Yet, it seems that the world is moving on from this outbreak. It is rarely mentioned in the media anymore.
Already fragile health systems that were brought to their knees by the outbreak must be rebuilt and strengthened so that they can better respond to similar outbreaks. Investments are also needed in schools, health facilities and to help people get back to work to support their families.
None of this can be done if people believe the outbreak is over -- because it is not. The outbreak will not be over until there are zero new cases of Ebola in the region.
Let us not abandon these children of West Africa when their needs remain so great.