The president of Ebola-stricken Liberia told NBC News on Tuesday that it was an overreaction for some U.S. states to order quarantines for health workers who have treated patients in West Africa.
In an exclusive interview with NBC News’s Chris Jansing, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf also expressed concern about the stigmatizing of Liberians living abroad.
Asked whether she was worried Americans would stop coming to Liberia to help, she said: “I’m not worried, but I’m a little bit concerned because we believe it’s an overreaction.”
“We understand the fears,” she added. “There’s fear even in our own society. But we think that fear can be overcome with the right messaging from leaders.”
The World Health Organization has recorded more than 4,600 cases of Ebola in Liberia, almost half the 10,000 cases around the world. The virus has killed more than 2,700 people there. Nearly 5,000 people have died from Ebola worldwide, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Johnson also said that 7,000 people in her country are being tracked by disease detectives because they have been in contact with someone who is infected.
But she stressed progress: Liberia is building 17 specialized Ebola treatment units and is equipping more than 600 community care centers so they can respond to anyone the disease detectives turn up who is sick.
“We feel a little bit confident that we’re now beating the disease, but we also remain cautious that it’s still with us, and we have a long way to go,” she said.
The issue of quarantines flared in the United States after the governors of New York and New Jersey ordered them for health workers who may have been exposed to Ebola in Africa, even if they have no symptoms and are therefore not contagious.
Health officials have warned that expansive quarantines could discourage health workers from going to Africa to help and subject them to stigma at home.
Sirleaf told NBC News that the world can’t afford to stop sending help.
“We welcome them, and we want to see larger numbers,” she said.