News / Africa

    Violent Quarantine Clashes Hamper Liberia's Struggle to Contain Ebola

    Liberian security forces hem in protesters after clashes at West Point neighborhood in Monrovia, Aug. 20, 2014.
    Liberian security forces hem in protesters after clashes at West Point neighborhood in Monrovia, Aug. 20, 2014.
    Mike EckelJames Butty

    The Liberian capital swirled with fear and confusion Thursday, as a nationwide nighttime curfew to slow the spread of Ebola went into full effect and a slum neighborhood was violently quarantined off from the rest of city.

    With Liberia reporting the most new cases of the deadly virus, the quarantine — an extreme measure rarely seen in public health emergencies anywhere — of the impoverished neighborhood of West Point appeared to be a sign of increasing desperation by the government.    

    President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared a national 9 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew on Tuesday, as well as West Point’s cordoning off. The timing of the announcement came as a surprise to many Liberians, as well as West Point residents, who clashed with soldiers after barricades made of tables, chairs and barbed wire went up early Wednesday.

    “There is reason to be frightened. Everyone should be frightened,” said 52-year-old Emmanuel Davis, a businessman in Monrovia, who spoke to VOA by telephone. “People are past the stage of denial, they are in the stage of fear.”

    The World Health Organization said nearly 2,500 people have been infected by the virus in four West African countries, with more than 1,350 people dying from it. Many experts have cautioned that those figures likely undercount the death toll, however. 

    Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria have reported cases, though Liberia is worst hit, reporting 90 percent of new deaths. 

    Some rural parts of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have been subjected to severe travel restrictions, with soldiers manning checkpoints and taking people’s temperatures to check for symptoms of the virus, which is extremely infectious and fatal.

    Local and foreign news reports said the price of basic goods in some parts of Monrovia, particularly in West Point, had climbed sharply Wednesday and Thursday.

    By Thursday afternoon, however, government officials had arrived with bags of rice, drinking water packets and cooking oil, with hundreds of residents lining up at the distribution point, The Associated Press reported.

    Misinformation and Distrust

    There was also a growing sense that the effort to halt the disease’s spread was being hampered by misinformation, and persistent distrust toward the government, a fact that Sirleaf alluded to earlier this month in declaring a state of emergency.

    "Ignorance and poverty, as well as entrenched religious and cultural practices, continue to exacerbate the spread of the disease,” Sirleaf said.

    In West Point, a bustling, peninsular shantytown housing tens hundreds of thousands of people, the government last week had turned an elementary school building into an Ebola ward.  But tensions soared after a group of young men armed with clubs rampaged through the center, yelling "there's no Ebola" in Liberia, witnesses reported.

    On Wednesday, soldiers erected barricades of barbed wire, wood and furniture to seal off the neighborhood. News reports quoted residents as saying they had no advance notice of the quarantine, and were prevented from getting to work or buying food.  At least four people when police fired bullets and tear gas to disperse the stone-throwing protesters.

    “I’m telling you live bullets were used.  A 15-year-old boy by the name of Sylvester Kromah was shot in the leg by the Liberian army,” Vandalark Patricks, national director of Liberia Campaigners for Change, told VOA. “When he went to rescue one of his family members, who also received a bullet in the process, his leg was shot by … soldiers.”

    Defense Ministry Denies Fatal Shooting

    Defense Minister Brownie Samukai however denied that, and said soldiers were attacked. 

    “A group of unruly residents came and began to attack the police and military personnel, throwing rocks, sticks, anything they could put their hands on.  And, they went to attack the residence of the district commissioner.  It was within the context of that that shots were fired in the air, I repeat, in the air, to disperse the crowds,” he told VOA.

    “We have to find the way to cut the spread of the virus.  And, the way to cut the spread of the virus is to make sure that we are positioned in a way to identify those who have the sickness and, at the same [time], identify those who need assistance,” Samukai said.

    West Point residents were also angered that soldiers sought to free the district’s head commissioner, who had been held hostage by people upset by the quarantine, Patricks said.

    “The commissioner, being a resident of that community, decided to leave with the help of some higher ups to go to another area.  So, the residents said you cannot leave us here because the law does not exclude anyone,” he said.

    Ebola’s rapid spread through Liberia has been fueled not only distrust of government messages, but also mistaken beliefs that folk remedies could stop or cure the disease, said Alfred Goumorlor, who runs a non-government organization in Monrovia called Critical Thinking Liberia.

    “Many people said the government was lying, the government was trying to make money and because of that, the government wasn’t able to take immediate action to quarantine local communities,” he said.

    South Africa Announces Travel Ban

    Some other African countries have also begun imposing travel bans to the three afflicted West African nations; South Africa on Thursday became the latest to impose such a restriction. With some airlines canceling flights to the countries, fears are also growing that disappearance of badly needed tourists will weaken the countries’ fragile economies.

    Guinea has started deploying civilian and military medical officers to its borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia as part of efforts to contain the virus.

    According to WHO, fruit bats are the likeliest host for the virus. In the current outbreak, the majority of human cases have occurred as a result of human-to-human transmission from contact with blood, urine or saliva or contact with contaminated bed linens or clothing.

    You May Like

    Leaving Scalia Replacement to 2017 Would Mean Unusually Long Vacancy

    History of high court shows Obama not in unique situation during final year of presidency

    US Fact Checkers Debunk Some Republican Presidential Candidate Claims 

    Slim evidence for several claims made by Republican presidential candidates at their last debate ahead of next Saturday's key nominating election in South Carolina

    Uganda Presidential Debate a Small Victory for Democracy

    In homes and bars across country, Ugandans were fixated on their screens as eight political candidates running for president took part in national debate

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Leroy Padmore from: Jersey City
    August 22, 2014 3:13 AM
    This is a disgraced for the Liberia and its people. Madam Sirleaf has shown herself to be incompetent for the job, and she needs to resign.We are calling on the resignation of Madam Sirleaf, she is not doing what the Liberian people expected of her. This is Madam Sirleaf second term in office, up today date, there is not safe drinking water, there is no electricity, Liberia is dirty and nasty. The high risk of Ebola is at its higher pick. The doctors and Nurses are dying from this Virus, the citizens are also dying. The Liberian Government is not educating the people on this dirty virus, and the effect of it. All they are trying to do is to steal from the WHO. There have to be a way to restrict the movement of the people, And the Liberian people have to agree to be restricted for a while, that will help a lot . Family members that are sick should encourage those that are sick to go to the Ebola center. The Government have to do something about this. The citizens need to cooperate with law enforcement, the Police and Army. This is not time to fight the Government. It is time to work with the Government, whether you like it or not.

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Ugandai
    X
    Serginho Roosblad
    February 12, 2016 9:29 PM
    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video Refugees in Kenya Vie to Compete in Rio Olympics

    In Kenya, refugees from other African nations are training at a special camp and competing for a limited number of slots in this year's Rio Olympics under the flag of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Ngong, this is a first in Olympic history.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.