President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was harshly criticized for her handling of the Ebola epidemic, but she said she finally got a handle on the situation, and now, there are no reported cases of Ebola in Liberia. She explained to NY1's Cheryl Wills how she did it in this exclusive report.
In an exclusive interview with NY1 at York College, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf explains how chaos broke out in her country as Ebola killed more than 4,000 Liberians from all walks of life.
"People were dying. We didn't have enough ambulances," Sirleaf said.
"The population got disgruntled. There was discontent because they didn't understand it. They expected us to have the answer to respond to it. We could not at that time."
It took months before Sirleaf was able to persuade world leaders to intervene. She admitted that critical mistakes were made early on.
"At first, we made some errors, too, because we wanted to stop the transmission," she said. "We took initially a military approach, responding to citizens appeal, that we stopped people from crossing political boundaries. We put soldiers around. We closed the borders."
That, though, led to skirmishes with police and was a political disaster. So Sirleaf said she switched gears and instead mobilized the Liberian community.
"Our churches, our mosques, our faith centers. We organized them to go into the churches. They prayed, but more than pray, they also taught their parishioners and their congregation about preventive measures. The community leaders, we organized them. Youth leaders, women organizations, organized all of them in the community to take responsibility, to take charge, and we gave them the means to be able to go from house to house," Sirleaf said. "That was the right thing to do. That changed things. It made people a part of the solution."
It worked so well that President Barack Obama invited the Liberian president to the Oval Office on February 27 and praised her leadership during the Ebola outbreak.
The Nobel Laureate has watched her country lurch from crisis to crisis over the decades, but she said she never loses faith that Liberia will rise again.
"I guess when I'm faced with challenges of this nature, maybe it brings out the best in me and the strongest in me, my determination to succeed, not to let something beat me, not let something destroy me," she said. "I think it just brings out the strength."