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'It Is Hell Out Here,' Says Liberian Official

ARUN RATH, HOST:

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa keeps getting scarier. It has killed more 2,600 people and that number is certain to keep growing. The U.S. is sending thousands of troops to help build treatment units. The command center for that operation is in the Liberian capital of Monrovia, which is one of the hardest hit areas. The World Health Organization says the virus is spreading exponentially there due to a lack of treatment facilities. Gyude Moore is the Deputy Chief of Staff to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

In an open letter to the international community, he writes that his country is (quote), "running out of time." I spoke with Gyude Moore yesterday via Skype from Monrovia. I began by asking him if he's seen changes there since President Obama pledged more support.

GYUDE MOORE: Yes. Yesterday there were American planes landing at Roberts field. So there has been an uptick in movement ever since President Obama announced.

RATH: What exactly are the American planes bringing right now?

MOORE: Mainly people. Yesterday, they were supposed to be begin bringing components of the field hospital but I didn't see anything. I didn't see that. What I saw was soldiers - mainly technical people.

RATH: And can you describe how the epidemic has changed in the past few weeks? What have you seen there in the capital?

MOORE: It's worsened, which is what prompted my letter. Because what happened was in the last week, there was just this explosion in the number of deaths. And we basically, about a week ago, needed about 1,000 beds. And we had a total of 260.

And what frightened us, I guess, is that in another 14 to 21 days, when the symptoms begin to become evident in the family members that are now treated and infected, these cases are going to explode.

RATH: Mr. Moore, you said that there's been some more relief coming in the last couple of days. Just how far away are you from having the number of beds - the number of treatment units that you need to deal with this?

MOORE: Optimistically, two weeks. And to be honest, Arun, I think in two weeks - I think we should be clear. Liberia it is very happy with the scale of the response, especially from the Americans. That response is adequate to the problem that we are faced with. But that response would've significantly altered the picture had that response come two weeks ago.

I've been working with the WHO engineer who's supervising the construction of these Ebola treatment units to expand the number of beds we have. But if you need 1,000 beds and have 260 and the symptoms show themselves in two weeks to three weeks, in two weeks we will probably need significantly more than 1,000 beds.

RATH: Finally, Mr. Moore, you were born and raised in Liberia. In the letter we've been talking about, you write it is hell here. Can you tell us what you've seen, how you're dealing with it personally?

MOORE: It's - I know a friend who works for an airline and has a neighbor whose wife died who's at home with his children. And he's showing all the symptoms. She's been calling me. I've been calling the people at the Ebola treatment units and there's nobody. There is nowhere. And all of these people remain in their homes and in their neighborhoods. It's cast a pall over the city and over everything - over all our lives.

I was in church on Sunday and the pastor was preaching And then he was going - he was making an indication as if he was going to touch one of the parishioners. And then he stopped mid-air and said everybody is looking at me. Of course I'm not going to touch this man.

It has affected every part of our lives. There is a Liberian handshake and it means nothing now because nobody ever does that. It's affected how we greet each other, how we grieve. It's altering us as a people and the distinctive things we've come to associate with being Liberian.

And that's what I meant when I said it's hell out here. And until we can create enough space to be able to isolate the sick, to be able to take them away from their families, I'm afraid that this is going to continue to go on. And it is out of this desperation that I reached out to my friends.

Everybody I knew when I was in the U.S., I wrote them to say look, we've written the U.S. president this letter. Call your Congressman. Do anything you can to move to the U.S. system so that we can be able to get a response that is adequate to the problem we face. Because it's hell out here.

RATH: Gyude Moore is the Deputy Chief of Staff to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. He joined me via Skype from Monrovia. Gyude Moore, thank you so much for your time.

MOORE: Thank you for the opportunity. And it's been great being with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.