The Ebola crisis took a violent turn late Saturday night when an armed mob raided an Ebola clinic in Liberia, taking bloodstained medical equipment, mattresses and sheets that are feared to carry the virus. Up to 30 patients of the clinic also escaped, all of whom are infected with Ebola. Many nurses are also reported to have fled. This latest development presents an enormous risk for the spread of Ebola in the West Point slum, the largest in Monrovia.
Tolbert Nyenswah, assistant health minister, told the Associated Press that the raid was a result of brewing frustrations among residents of Liberia's capital city, who were angered that Ebola patients were being brought into West Point from other parts of Monrovia.
"There's no Ebola"
According to witness Rebecca Wesseh, who spoke to Agence France Press after the raid, the looters yelled, "There's no Ebola" while taking medicine and vomit- and feces-stained mattresses. Because Ebola spreads through bodily fluids, the removal of these contaminated materials comes as a huge blow to the containment efforts.
Many residents of West Point believe that Ebola is either a fictitious disease invented by the government as an excuse to wipe out the slum entirely, or an illness created and spread by westerners who have invaded Western Africa. Just one day before the raids, Reuters reports emerged that crowds several hundred strong took to the streets chanting, "No Ebola in West Point."
This demonstration prevented a burial team and its police escort from retrieving the bodies of individuals suspected to have perished of the virus. But this latest show of rebellion is described by one senior police officer to BBC News as "one of the stupidest things" the looters could have done.
West Point, which boasts a population of an estimated 50,000 living in tight, cramped quarters, may now be completely exposed to the virus. Whereas patients in the raided clinic were previously kept quarantined, the raid on Saturday freed many of these individuals, most of whom have yet to be found.
"I don't know where he is"
Fallah Boima is the father of one of the patients who fled the facility after the attack. According to Boima, he seemed to be recovering, but when Boima attempted to visit his ailing child on Sunday, he was told that his son was missing, and that he would not be allowed on the premises.
Boima told AFP:
I don't know where he is and I am very confused. He has not called me since he left the camp. Now that the nurses have all left how will I know where my son is.
With a mortality rate of up to 90 percent, if the Ebola virus is to spread in West Point, it could have absolutely devastating effects on the population. A senior police official told the Associated Press that he worried that "the whole of West Point [would] be infected."
This latest debacle only exacerbates the huge number of issues doctors and officials in Liberia have had in their attempts to contain and cure the disease that the World Health Organization reports has now claimed the lives of 1,145 individuals in West Africa. There are an additional 1,310 confirmed cases in Liberia alone.
But with local pushback of quarantine and treatment efforts, it is becoming more and more difficult to control the spread of the disease. Traditional communities who have neither seen nor heard of the disease previously are suspicious of its authenticity, especially because many treatment and post-mortem methods go against traditional practices.
In Sierra Leone, for example, victims' relatives have been bathing their loved ones' bodies, which significantly increases the risk of spreading Ebola because the dead are extremely contagious. But when health workers asked the locals to cease and desist, they became distrustful, as failing to complete these ritual seems dishonorable.
Others appear to be spreading false rumors about both the origin and potential cures for the disease, with police chief Alfred Karrow-Kamara of Kenema, Sierra Leone telling Yahoo News that a former nurse informed locals that Ebola was nothing more than a facade for "carrying out cannibalistic rituals." This resulted in an attempted attack on the primary Ebola hospital in Kenema.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some believe that folk remedies will cure the virus — Yahoo News reports that two have died and at least 20 more have been hospitalized in Nigeria after consuming enormous amounts of salt, with the belief that it would keep the virus away. Reuters reports that others rely on much simpler solutions — some police and soldiers turned to herbal rope bracelets to ward off the disease, saying that a "local traditional healer had been told in a dream" that this would be the best solution.
Unfortunately, there is still no confirmed cure for Ebola, though ZMapp, the experimental serum taken by the two Americans infected earlier this month, has been sent to Liberia in hopes of treating infected doctors. ZMapp remains untested for public use, but in these desperate times, it seems that every possible solution must be tried.
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