Liberia’s Ebola crisis grows as patients escape quarantine centers

Jose Castro – Fourth Estate Cooperative Contributor

Monrovia, Liberia (4E) – One of the largest Ebola quarantine centers located in Monrovia, Liberia was ransacked over the weekend by an angry mob. According to official reports, about 30 suspected Ebola infected patients had escaped, either moved to another center or had gone home. This Monday, a number of these patients have returned to the quarantine center.

When patients are removed or leave an Ebola quarantine center, it would be a major blow to the outbreak control programs of the country. Ebola is a virus that is highly susceptible for transmission, because a simple exchange of bodily fluids, such as a sneeze would result in infection. As of the moment, there is no known cure for the disease. All that can be done for infected patients would be to keep them isolated and provide rehydrating fluids until they succumb to the disease.

The attack on the quarantine center was brought about by a mob protesting the program of bringing patients to the area from other parts of Monrovia. According to Liberian Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah, the 29 patients currently at the facility when the mob attacked were moved and admitted to another Ebola treatment center inside the local offices of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center.

The attackers were mostly men armed with clubs, shouting invectives at Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as well as “there’s no Ebola.” The nurses in the facility also fled at the height of the attack.

West Point, the location of the Ebola center, is one of the worst slums in all of Liberia. Many of its residents had come fresh from fighting in the Liberian civil war between 1989 and 2002. Thousands, from soldiers to displaced families had moved into West Point, even child soldiers and refugees living side by side by the war’s end.

The area is squalid, to say the least. In a 2009 report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there were only four public toilets for a population of 70,000 residents. In the report, the cost of use was 3 cents and there were at least 300 users a day. This resulted in 15 cm deep soiled news papers in the cubicles, as these were used to wipe their bottoms.

These conditions can only exacerbate the effects of the raid conducted in the area. With squalor alongside inhuman conditions, these are clear breeding grounds for such killers as Ebola. This formula has been seen in many other areas, where Ebola has killed 1,145 of the 2,000 infected individuals in other areas such as Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. In Liberia alone, of the 1,310 individuals identified as infected, 712 have already died.

One of the reasons why the quarantine centers are important is this is where possible vaccines can be tested. Liberia has already asked for the experimental drug ZMapp which was used to treat two infected health care workers in Atlanta, GA. Samples would be used on doctors that have been infected as they treat the Ebola victims.

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