News / Africa

Armed Men Raid Liberia Ebola Quarantine Center

People pass by Ebola virus health warning signs, in the city of Monrovia, Liberia, Aug. 17, 2014.
People pass by Ebola virus health warning signs, in the city of Monrovia, Liberia, Aug. 17, 2014.
VOA News

A group of young men armed with clubs, claiming that "there's no Ebola" in Liberia, raided a quarantine center for the deadly disease in Monrovia overnight, prompting about 20 patients infected with the deadly virus to flee, a witness said Sunday.

Liberian officials fear Ebola could soon spread through the capital's largest slum after the looters chased off Ebola patients and took items including blood-stained sheets and mattresses.

"They broke down the door and looted the place. The patients have all gone," said Rebecca Wesseh, who witnessed the attack and whose report was confirmed by residents and the head of Health Workers Association of Liberia, George Williams.

Williams, said the unit housed 29 patients who "had all tested positive for Ebola" and were receiving preliminary treatment before being taken to hospital.

"Of the 29 patients, 17 fled last night (after the assault). Nine died four days ago and three others were yesterday taken by force by their relatives" from the center, he said.

The violence in the West Point slum occurred late Saturday and was led by residents angry that patients were brought from other parts of the capital to the holding center, Tolbert Nyenswah, assistant health minister, said Sunday.

The group also looted equipment and food from the facility, witnesses said.

Liberian police restored order to the West Point neighborhood, which is home to an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 poor Liberians.

Ebola has killed 1,145 people in West Africa, according to the World Health Organization, which added that Liberia has recorded more Ebola deaths - 413 - than any of the other affected countries - Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Guinea.

'Plague villages'

To try to control the Ebola epidemic spreading through West Africa, Liberia has quarantined remote villages at the epicenter of the virus, evoking the "plague villages" of medieval Europe that were shut off from the outside world.

With few food and medical supplies getting in, many abandoned villagers face a stark choice: stay where they are and risk death or skip quarantine, spreading the infection further in a country ill-equipped to cope.

In Boya, in northern Liberia's Lofa County, Joseph Gbembo, who caught Ebola and survived, said he is struggling to raise 10 children under five years of age and support five widows after nine members of his family died from the virus.

He said he has received no food or health care for the children and no help from government officials.

Aid workers said that if support does not arrive soon, locals in villages like Boya, where the undergrowth is already spreading among the houses, will simply disappear down jungle footpaths.

"If sufficient medication, food and water are not in place, the community will force their way out to fetch food and this could lead to further spread of the virus," said Tarnue Karbbar, a worker for charity Plan International based in Lofa County.

In the week ending August 13, Lofa county recorded more new cases of Ebola than anywhere else - 124 new cases of Ebola and 60 deaths.

WHO and Liberian officials have warned that, with little access by health care workers to the remote areas hidden deep in rugged jungle zones, the actual toll may be far higher.

Liberia containment strategy

In Monrovia, which still bears the scars of the brutal 14-year civil war that ended in 2003, officials said controlling the situation in Lofa is crucial to overcoming the country's biggest crisis since the conflict.

With her country under threat, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has imposed emergency measures including the community quarantine and a "cordon sanitaire" - a system of medical roadblocks to prevent the infection reaching cities, widely used against the Black Death in Medieval times.

Troops have been deployed under operation "White Shield" to stop people from abandoning homes and infecting others in a country where the majority of cases remain at large, either because clinics are full or because they are scared of hospitals regarded as "death traps."

Liberia, one of the world's least developed nations, has poor Internet and telecommunications, and only about 50 doctors for a population of more than 4 million.

In Liberia, families continue to hide their sick at home. Health workers and facilities have come under attack.

Traditional funerals, where family members bathe and dress highly contagious corpses, have expedited Ebola's spread to nine of the country's 15 counties.

Neighbors Guinea and Sierra Leone have placed checkpoints in Gueckedou and Kenema, creating a cross-border quarantine zone of roughly 20,000 square kilometers, called the "unified sector."

Within this massive ring are areas where up to 70 percent of people are infected. 

"Access to these hot spots is now cut off except for medical workers," Liberia Information Minister Lewis Brown said in an interview this week.

On Saturday, Sirleaf spent the day with education teams in communities around Monrovia, trying to answer people's questions about Ebola and urge them to comply with containment measures. Hundreds of people turned out to listen and to ask questions.

Anne Look contributed to this report from Dakar. Prince Collins contributed to this report from Monrovia. Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AFP and AP.

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Comment Sorting
by: j. elefante from: California
September 11, 2014 11:06 PM
Could this be the reason why there has been a recent exponential spike in the amount of Ebola cases?

by: Joan C. from: Florence, SC, USA
August 18, 2014 10:43 PM
Why wasn't there some form of security there?

by: Christopher Nyentan from: New Kru Town, Monrovia
August 18, 2014 2:44 AM
Hi VOA, This Ebola epidemic is deadly and continues to take the lives of people day by day in our country, Liberia. Please VOA help me call on the international community for more support and attention to help my government that is catching it hard to fight this disease.
from: Christopher Nyentan

by: meanbill from: USA
August 17, 2014 5:57 PM
The World Health Organization (WHO) have repeatedly told the world, that this (EBOLA) outbreak that's becoming an epidemic, will not become a worldwide epidemic around the world.... Now, everyday (WHO) keeps giving out information that contradicts their ability to control the (EBOLA) epidemic outbreak, (and the EBOLA fear is spreading), and the spreading fear is causing contagious (EBOLA) carriers to flee to surrounding countries, and around the world to escape it.....

PS;.. Yea, (WHO) can control the (EBOLA) epidemic outbreak, but when they start running to escape it, the world should start worrying...... and will the flesh eating zombies, be far behind?

by: Harris W. Gbahn from: Voinjama, Lofa County
August 17, 2014 5:08 PM
Monrovia is highly becoming risky day by day with Ebola infection. For the past two weeks a family located in Jacob Town, Paynesville has lost three of their family members to this virus; the recent death took place today. Ebola Respond Unit has been informed about this incident but has deliberately refused to come to the rescue of the family and the community.
Before the three family members past out, they visited some of the community clinics around there. The behaviors of our health workers (the ebola respond unit) are helping the virus to rapidly spread in in the community.
If our government really means business to save Monrovia from ebola, the city should be divided into ten zones; deploy these health workers in the various zones so as to promptly respond to calls that will come from their assigned zones. Additionally, they should be given the mandate to conduct house to house check along with a joint security team assigned to each zone. In the absence of this, the virus will go off-hand in Monrovia few days from now.

August 17, 2014 12:45 PM
Not surprised at all by "terrorists" trying to remove any chance 4 tjeir OWN. countrymen from having acceds to this " hail mary " attempt to help......they care NOTJING 4 ANYONE BUT THEIR OWN PERVERTED.+ SKEWED WORLD-VIEW....... Saviors of tje "people" HA. !!!!! .J-DS

by: AvidReader from: California
August 17, 2014 12:07 PM
The armed men touched body fluids so they are very likely to become infected (20 days from now) (ow many?). The 29 patients who fled will become weak and need help (and so they will infect all who help them .. 30 or even 60 more people). The contaminated items will infect anyone who handles them (possibly 100 or more people and some of the police who broke up the melee will become infect (including jailers) So this incident could easily infect 1000 more people (or 3000) Very bad turn of events. (excellentreport)

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