Notes from the Field: Kortu

After 14 years of nearly uninterrupted civil war, Liberia enjoyed only a decade of peace before Ebola wrecked the collective national consciousness from 2014 through 2016. More than 550,000 people were killed in two civil wars which lasted from 1989 to 1997 and again from 1999 to 2003.

This time, the killer was silent.

“It was strange, it was like Liberia was at war again but there were no guns sounding,” Kortu, a member of EcoHealth Alliance’s field team in Liberia, said.

Kortu in the field
Kortu works on the ground in Liberia with EcoHealth Alliance

The West African Ebola outbreak began in Guinea, just across Liberia’s northern border. The virus crossed the border in March 2014 with a pair of sisters. The two were traveling to Liberia’s Foya-Borma Hospital to get treatment for one suffering from a severe fever. Hospital workers did not know about Ebola, but did know enough about contagious diseases and were able to mostly contain it. However, in May, a school principal accidentally brought the virus back into Liberia from Sierra Leone. Ebola reached Liberia’s capital Monrovia by June and in August President Ellen Sirleaf declared a state of emergency. Some 4,806 Liberians lost their lives to the outbreak and another 10,666 fell sick.

“Every day I would count no less than four bodies lying in the street, either dead or dying,” Kortu said.

We must stop this from happening again. And to do that, we need your help.

Stopping the next pandemic before it starts requires tackling disease spread from several angles. It’s about studying wildlife which could potentially infect humans, taking samples, and tracking where viruses lay dormant. It’s about discovering new, unknown viruses. It’s also about educating people on maintaining a healthy relationship with their environments. Most people in West Africa knew very little about Ebola before the outbreak started.

“People thought it was a curse, a punishment from God,” Kortu said. “Other people were thinking that it was man-made, that it was produced in a laboratory.”

Kortu in the field
Kortu in the field

In order to help, it’s important to establish trust within a community. That’s why EcoHealth Alliance partners with local universities, research labs, and scientists in every country we work in. Kortu is not an outsider, he’s Liberian, just like the people he’s helping to educate. Alongside EcoHealth Alliance, Kortu and other team members are teaching the One Health concept and how to live in concert with wildlife. Animals like bats, which are likely the natural hosts of Ebola, also help to control populations of pests like mosquitoes, which can carry other deadly pathogens like those that lead to malaria, dengue fever, or Chikungunya.

We need your support to keep this work going. Please help us to expand our work into even more parts of the world and, in turn, to lower the risk of another global pandemic.

There are more than 1.5 million unknown viruses lurking in the wild; around 500,000 have the potential to infect people and cause a global pandemic. EcoHealth Alliance is the only nonprofit working to discover and stop these diseases before they strike. Your donation is–of course–tax-deductible.

“Once they declared us Ebola-free–the very day–there were people in the streets shaking hands, hugging their friends,” Kortu said. “Ebola is here no more. So we can hug, we can shake. We had basically hidden ourselves from Ebola worries and those are signs that our minds have been freed.”

Please help us help keep minds, worldwide, free of worry.