Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, August 22, 2014

Monrovia's Agony

Fifteen-year-old Shakie Kamara pleads "help me", as soldiers hold back a surging crowd with live rounds to drive back the young men hurling rocks, furious at being penned up by order of their president, in the slum known as West Point, home to over 75,000 indigent Liberians. Security forces, in line with President Sirleaf's orders erected a scrap wood and barbed wire fence to seal the residents of West Point into their crowded slum, sans sanitation, sans medical help, sans hope to survive Ebola set to ravage the community.

Photo of a Liberian Army soldier, part of the Ebola Task Force, beating a local resident while enforcing a quarantine on the West Point slum on August 20, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia.
A Liberian soldier beats a local resident while enforcing a quarantine in Monrovia's West Point slum on Wednesday.     Photograph by John Moore, Getty
The boy, Shakie Kamara, had tried to scale that hastily-erected fence by which the government of Liberia was abandoning its most vulnerable population in Monrovia, Liberia. He lay there, beside the barricade that had rejected his attempts to mount it, shot in the right leg by soldiers doing their duty to the establishment in this time of crisis for Liberia. Following orders, they are enforcing a quarantine in a desperate effort to halt the Ebola virus spread.
"This is messed up. They injured one of my police officers. That's not cool. It's a group of criminals that did this. Look at this child. God in heaven help us."
Lt. Col. Abraham, Kromah, national police, head of operations

"We have been unable to control the spread [of Ebola]."
"There will be no movements in and out of those areas."
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

This, after hundreds of people from the slum had stormed the neighbourhood school turned into an Ebola isolation ward, where people from outside West Point had been brought in for isolation due to their symptoms of the dread virus. Their presence had enraged the slum occupants who allowed those suspected Ebola patients to flee from the holding facility, a situation that increased fears the disease would spread throughout the city. The isolation unit was looted, medical supplies and linens full of blood, vomit and feces of the isolated patients taken by the enraged protesters.

That was Saturday. Wednesday the residents of West Point awakened to the fact that their immediate environment was now completely under quarantine. Police and military personnel in riot gear had blocked roads leading in and out of their neighbourhood. A seaside neighbourhood, where coast guard officers too halted residents attempting to set out in canoes from West Point. That West Point just happens to be the area with the highest number of confirmed and suspected Ebola cases in the capital means, effectively that the poverty-stricken neighbourhood has been abandoned to its fate.

A photo of Liberian riot policemen enforcing a quarantine in Monrovia, Liberia.
Riot police enforce the quarantine in West Point, home to 75,000 impoverished people.  Photograph by John Moore, Getty
While outbreaks of the disease have affected Guinea (where it is believed the viral contagion began), Nigeria and Sierra Leone, there the cases have been concentrated for the most part in rural areas. But in Liberia, the disease has spread to its major city of Monrovia, the country's capital. President Sirleaf blamed the high number of cases on denial, defiance of authorities and cultural burial practices where bodies are handled by the bereaved, transmitting the virus. Monrovians, on the other hand, believe the government has been inept, leaving bodies to rot in the streets, sometimes for days.

"It's out of control; the numbers keep rising. It's very difficult and complex in Monrovia. We've never had a large outbreak like this in an urban setting."
Lindis Hurum, co-ordinator, Doctors without Borders,

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