Dire consequences: Ebola taking its toll on Monrovia’s West Point slum community

Monrovia — In the populated quarantined West Point, Liberia’s biggest slum community located in capital city Monrovia, people were running helter-skelter on Wednesday, August 20. Market women scrambled over their goods as a soldier wielded a baton at them and told them to pack up and leave the area.

The previous day government announced it had quarantined two communities, West Point in Monrovia and Dolo Town in Margibi County, and placed them under full security watch, meaning there will be no movements in and out of those areas. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said the decision to quarantine these areas was due to the high level of infections from the deadly Ebola virus.

In West Point some residents angry over the measures began to throw stones at the police and army personnel in an effort to abort the evacuation of commissioner Miatta Flowers and her family who also live in the area. Flowers felt threatened as residents besieged her house and had to call for help from the authorities.

The situation became tense with people, including police officers, running to escape the scene of the stoning. But the crowd kept coming and more rocks poured in.

The army fired shots in the air that left one wounded, a 15-year-old boy who died later that day at the Redemption hospital. But the army said the cause of the wound was superficial and not from gunshot.

“The intention was not to harm anyone but just to keep the crowd away, instead of the crowd stoning and trying to hurt,” said Defense Minister Brownie Samukai at a press conference moments after the Wednesday riots.

“Understand that people are beating up health workers and they have attacked police vehicles and attacked security personnel. We cannot sit there, that is why we issued the warning shots to keep them away.”

Liberia’s President Sirleaf also imposed a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew nationwide and ordered the closure of all entertainment centers during the Ebola outbreak.

President Sirleaf said Liberia has been unable to control the spread of the deadly Ebola virus due to continued denials, cultural burying practices, disregard for the advice of health workers and disrespect for government’s warnings.

Residents trapped in their homes in one of the quarantined communities of West Point. Wade Williams.
Residents trapped in their homes in one of the quarantined communities of West Point. Wade Williams.

Though many in West Point area are still in denial of the disease, there are others who believe it exists. One man who runs a pharmacy in the area said he sees many cases that show symptoms of the deadly virus in the area.

“We see them with the signs and they are so many here. Even the remainder of the family that died here, so many of them are getting sick and the people know how to get them out of this place and they are not getting them out,” said Abubarkar Bah, owner of Anakah Medicine store in the West Point area on Thursday.

“One lady came here just now. Her skin was very hot,” said Bah. “I use gloves and when I see them with the signs and symptoms getting severe I don’t go near them.”

The government said the disease has been difficult to control in populated areas such as West Point and Dolo Town. West Point alone has a population of over 50,000 people.

“The situation we are dealing with especially in Liberia, is so peculiar, so unprecedented and so strange,” said Tolbert Nyenswah, assistant minister for curative services at the ministry of health.

“We’ve been dealing with Ebola in rural communities, now we are dealing with Ebola and responding in a very populated urban city. This situation is terrible. There are still new cases being reported, there are still new deaths being reported, and so no amount of drugs can stop this outbreak.”

The deadly Ebola virus has had a huge impact on the country’s economy and way of life. People can no longer bury their dead through the normal traditional means because experts have said the one of the major ways that the virus can spread is by touching dead bodies.

There is a ban on the sale of bushmeat, which has shut down the large market for this commodity. Schools have not reopened for the academic year 2014/2015 because of the disease and families are keeping children indoors and restricting the way they play.

Liberians are hoping for reprieve from the deadly virus as the number of dead and cases continues to climb.

International assistance is scaling up, said United Nations appointed Senior UN Systems Coordinator for Ebola Dr. David Mabarro on August 22 when he led a team of UN experts to the region.

The World Health Organization has predicted that countries affected by the disease are in for the long haul to overcome the outbreak, estimating it will take six to nine months to totally contain its spread.

But residents continue to express disgust at the government’s decision to quarantine certain areas affected by the disease. They say this is making life miserable for them and their families.

“I’m really vexed with the idea because some of us we live here but we go to West Point market to buy food for our children and since this morning our children have not eaten yet. Is it because of Ebola this woman (President) must kill us? We are tired with this thing,” said Hawa Massally, resident of West Point.

 

Wade C.L. Williams is an investigative reporter and chief of the news desk for FrontPageAfrica newspaper and website and a fellow of New Narratives, a project supporting independent media in Africa.

Main image: Soldiers enforcing quarantine in West Point, Monrovia. Wade Williams.

 

 

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