Fury, fear in Ebola quarantine
Monrovia –– A red rope guarded by police marks the “quarantine line” around the West Point slum in the Liberian capital Monrovia.
Beyond it, more than 70,000 people are trapped –– angry, scared and increasingly hungry –– as authorities seek to halt the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.
As soon as a CNN team crossed the line, it was swarmed by people desperate to be heard.
Since the government designated the slum an Ebola quarantine zone last week, there has been no way out. Stuck without sanitation or running water, and with food supplies for many running low, people fear for their lives.
The quarantine measures were imposed after rioters looted an Ebola treatment centre in the slum, claiming the virus was a government hoax.
A nurse at the centre told CNN she arrived for her shift that night to find the centre destroyed and not a patient to be found.
The centre is slowly being rebuilt, but it lacks basic equipment and facilities. Medical workers have to wash their protective gear for reuse and have little more than a squirt of bleach to rely on.
It is the only refuge for the slum’s frightened residents. But the most that they can hope for is to be made comfortable while they wait either to overcome the virus –– or not.
Like many residents of West Point, Charming Fallah, a hairdresser, has to travel out of the township to make a living. She is the only breadwinner for her two children and her elderly parents.
“Right now my mother doesn’t have anything,” she told CNN. “First, I was the one that provided for her. But as time goes by, she’s complaining the rice is finished. I just came from my parents’ house and she has nothing.”
Asked if she is more scared by the disease or by hunger, Fallah replied: “Both. That’s what’s worrying us. The hunger, the Ebola, everything. I’m scared of everything.”
Her fears are far from unfounded. Experts have described the West African outbreak, centred in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, as the worst in the history of the virus.
The World Health Organization said yesterday that 120 health care workers have died in the Ebola outbreak, and twice that number have been infected.
Public health experts say several factors are to blame, including a shortage of protective gear and improper use of the gear they do have.
The fact that the disease has killed so many people working to care for infected patients is making it increasingly hard to combat the virus in West Africa, WHO said.
“It depletes one of the most vital assets during the control of any outbreak. WHO estimates that, in the three hardest hit countries, only one to two doctors are available to treat 100,000 people, and these doctors are heavily concentrated in urban areas.”
The threat can mean other health facilities close, as staff choose to stay home rather than risk their lives. This means other medical needs, such as help with childbirth and malaria treatment, are neglected.
“The fact that so many medical staff have developed the disease increases the level of anxiety: if doctors and nurses are getting infected, what chance does the general public have?” the group wrote.
“In some areas, hospitals are regarded as incubators of infection and are shunned by patients with any kind of ailment, again reducing access to general health care.”
The heavy toll is also making it harder to secure support from sufficient numbers of foreign medical staff, the group said.