Firestone and Liberia

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HARBEL, Liberia — Firestone has successfully contained cases of Ebola on their plantation in Liberia when the rest of Africa could not. The first case of Ebola was contracted by a woman hospitalized in nearby Guinea, who fled the hospital to stay at her husband’s home, located in the Firestone plantation.

In the west African region, Ebola has currently affected 18,000 people while taking the lives of 7,000. The most vulnerable states include Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. This is due to severely weak systems that do not have the capacity to prevent or treat an outbreak of such a deadly disease. The poor infrastructure is a direct result of years of war and political conflict.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has declared that the ultimate goal is to find no more cases of Ebola in west Africa. The establishment that has been able to accomplish close to this is not a government, but an American company called Firestone.

Firestone was founded in 1900 in Ohio. After Liberia was discovered as an ideal place to acquire rubber to fabricate trees, Firestone built a large rubber plantation in what is now known as Harbel, Liberia. It is named after Harvey Firestone, the founder of the company, and his wife, Isabel. The town is located near Monrovia, the capital of Liberia.

The plantation covered 220 acres and was modeled like a Southern plantation in America. It housed 12 American managers and their families with Liberian natives as servants, and comprised acres and acres of rubber trees for Liberian natives to tap for rubber. In addition, they had housing on the plantation for the Liberian workers. The Americans heavily invested and developed inside the plantation and kept to themselves instead of interacting with the rest of the country. Therefore, they were almost oblivious about the bloody revolution that was being led by Charles Taylor.

Apart from successfully containing Ebola, the fact that Firestone, a private company on foreign land—and not any of the governments on their own soil—was able to accomplish this sets this apart.

There are two main reasons Firestone was effective:

  • First, Firestone is a large, well-established company with many resources, including capital. They were able to get the necessary medical supplies to tend to those affected. They also distributed hazmat suits to provide protection.
  • Second, despite the monetary resources, it does not mean they had the medical knowledge to treat Ebola. However, they had access to the Internet to try to mitigate the problem. Their major plan was to contain the disease by isolating those affected by the virus and then keeping extremely close tabs on anyone they have come into contact with.

Currently, the Firestone plant houses nearly 80,000 people. Yet, their ward has only three infected people with Ebola, and these three are not even residents on the plantation. They are from neighboring towns.

The world can learn much from Firestone and the tactics they have used to contain Ebola to respond to the outbreaks properly and contain the issue.

Christina Cho

Sources: Frontline, NPR, United Nations, World Health Organization
Photo: Public Radio International

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