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

    Self-doubt, Cultural Barriers Hinder Cambodian Women in Tech

    Longtime Cambodian tech observer Sok Sikieng says that although more women have joined profession in recent years, there remain significant factors hindering women from reaching tech potential

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Annual festival showcases the region's harvested agriculture, fine wines and offers opportunities to experience the gentle breeze in a hot air balloon flight

    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.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora