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Liberia Uses Tear Gas to Disperse Ebola Protest

  • Anne Look

The Ebola epidemic gripping West Africa has claimed another 106 lives, raising the overall death toll to 1,350.

The World Health Organization reported the new figures Wednesday, as officials in Liberia imposed a general quarantine on two suburbs of the capital in hopes of curbing the outbreak.

Liberia is where 90 percent of the new deaths reported by the WHO occurred.

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WHO also reported 221 new cases of Ebola, bringing the total number of cases across Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone to just under 2,500.

Protesters tear gased

Police in Liberia's capital, Monrovia fired tear gas at protesters who were upset that the government placed a quarantine on their neighborhood to fight the spread of Ebola.

Residents in Monrovia's West Point area shouted and threw stones at security forces after they surrounded the area on Wednesday.

A West Point resident who was in the crowd told VOA by phone he had been trying to go to a nearby market to buy food.

Some people complained they had received no warning of the newly-imposed quarantine and expressed concern that they would not be able to get food.

Meant to save lives

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ordered the quarantine for the West Point neighborhood on Tuesday. She also announced a quarantine on part of the coastal Margibu County region and imposed a nighttime curfew across Liberia, specifying that those areas were now under “full security watch.”

In an address late Tuesday Sirleaf explained that the measures were meant to save lives.

“We have been unable to control the spread due to continued denials, cultural burying practices, disregard for the advice of health workers and disrespect for the warnings by the government," Sirleaf said. "As a result and due to the large population concentration, the disease has spread widely in Monrovia and its environs.”

Effective Wednesday, Liberia is under a nationwide 9:00 p.m. - 6:00 a.m. curfew.

Looting in West Point

West Point is where an angry mob raided an Ebola treatment center during the weekend. Looters walked away with bedding and hospital materials that could have been contaminated.

The government says the 37 patients who fled the center during the attack have since been found. But the incident thrust the capital into a panic.

The government blamed the attack on a “misunderstanding” among locals about the purpose of the center, which was to observe suspected Ebola cases.

Effective Wednesday, Liberia is under a nationwide curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

President Sirleaf said existing emergency measures, like the quarantine of several affected border counties, have not been enough.

“We have been unable to control the spread due to continued denials, cultural burying practices, disregard for the advice of health workers and disrespect for the warnings by the government," Sirleaf said. "As a result and due to the large population concentration, the disease has spread widely in Monrovia and its environs.”

Inadequate response

Liberians continue to complain of shortcomings in the government’s response. Residents of Monrovia and other affected parts of the country say they are reporting dead bodies to authorities as instructed, but it is still taking days for burial teams to arrive to pick them up.

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Ebola is transmitted through close contact with a sick person’s bodily fluids. Corpses of Ebola victims are especially contagious so the government has forbidden private burials.

Public health experts tell VOA that poor communication and challenges in the field are heightening public anxiety and risk, undercutting confidence in the authorities.

Prince Collins contributed to this report from Monrovia

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