Ebola Enters Liberian Slums

Liberian officials fear the Ebola virus may soon spread through the West Point slum in Monrovia, after residents looted a quarantine center for patients suspected of being infected with Ebola, and removed items including bloody sheets and mattresses.

Violence erupted there after residents became upset that patients from other parts of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, were being brought to the West Point quarantine center. Up to 30 patients were staying at the center before fleeing prior to the raid. Officials are hoping to locate those patients again so they may be transferred to the Ebola center at Monrovia’s largest hospital.

It was reported that people were seen fleeing the quarantine center location with looted items including medical equipment, mattresses and sheets that were visibly stained with blood, vomit and excrement, and those items were being dragged through the streets and alleyways of the West Point slum.

I can comprehend the idea of fear, and appreciate how that fear could spill out in the form of violence from panic-stricken residents in countries currently battling this Ebola outbreak. It’s hard to imagine how stressful and frightening it must be to live in a place like West Point, the largest slum in Monrovia, with no recourse for getting out, and knowing that Ebola has set up shop in your neighborhood.

I get why people might want to act out as a form of protest, and choose to loot businesses or government agencies, but why would you go anywhere near a quarantine clinic. You could picket outside it to show solidarity. You could even burn the place to the ground, but who loots a deserted quarantine clinic of materials stained with Ebola contaminated secretions. Even in sheer panic I can’t grasp who would go inside such a place, much less touch anything there when it is widely known that Ebola is spread through bodily fluids, including blood, vomit, feces and sweat.

It’s like running into a lab and injecting yourself with the Ebola virus. Who does that? This act follows no logic. In fact either the population is so rife with panic that looting the quarantine center was the act of a hysterical population nearing bedlam, or this population follows a more tribal culture, and lacks first world exposure to norms and education that would generally instill a sense of self-preservation to preclude looting such a location as a course of action. No doubt Liberia is off the beaten path, but I hate to think about the likely consequences of dragging blood stained mattresses and bed sheets through the cramped quarters of the West Point slum.

That area is home to 50,000 or more people, and while order was restored to the West Point neighborhood Sunday by authorities, imagine what happens when people become symptomatic. It could spread like wildfire. Liberian officials already are struggling to contain the outbreak. If the residents of West Point aren’t contained, those with symptoms could spread this across Monrovia, which has a population of nearly 1 million.

Ebola is one of the great global killers, with no cure available. It often claims 90 percent of those victims infected. Thus far Ebola has killed 1,145 people in West Africa during the current outbreak.

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