Ebola crisis: Liberia police fire at Monrovia protests

Security forces erect blockade around West Point West Point residents say they need to leave the slum to buy food and go to work

Police in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, have fired live rounds and tear gas during protests after a quarantine was imposed to contain the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Residents of the capital's West Point slum area say the barbed wire blockade stops them buying food and working.

Four people are said to have been injured in the clashes.

Liberia has seen the most deaths - 576 - in the world's worst Ebola outbreak, which has hit West Africa this year.

A total of 1,350 have died in four countries - Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, as well as Liberia.

A picture taken on August 19, 2014 in Monrovia show an Ebola information billboard displayed near the John F Kennedy memorial medical centre Some Liberians believe Ebola is a hoax, so the government is running public information campaigns

Hundreds of West Point residents protested on Wednesday after security forces erected blockades around the slum.

One 15-year-old boy was injured in West Point as he tried to cross the barbed-wire barricades erected by the security forces, who fired into the air to disperse the protesters.

"I don't have any food and we're scared," West Point resident Alpha Barry told Reuters news agency.

The authorities said they had delivered some emergency food aid to the area on Wednesday.

Residents of other Monrovia districts said they were unhappy at not being able to buy food in West Point market.

"We go to West Point market to buy food for our children, and since this morning our children have not yet eaten," Hawa Massally told AP.

A boy rakes faeces into a hole on the beach in the West Point slum on 19 August 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia West Point, Liberia's largest slum, lies on the Atlantic Ocean
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At the scene: Jonathan Paye-Layleh, BBC News, Monrovia

West Point is an informal settlement home to 50-100,000 people. The slum lacks almost everything required for livelihood and life has remained unchanged for the impoverished community for decades.

There are no public toilets in the whole township. The zinc shacks in which people reside are almost glued together, making it a health hazard and vulnerable to fire outbreaks. In the absence of regular toilet facilities, West Pointers (as residents proudly call themselves) use makeshift wooden toilets erected over the River Mesurado. The beach on the Atlantic coast is also used as a toilet.

Even though the township is situated close to mainland Monrovia and is densely populated, the only government school there is an elementary school; there is no high or secondary school and there is no assembly hall for residents to meet and discuss issues of common interest.

Analysts have long argued that residents should be moved out of the mosquito-infested township but even though the land they reside on belongs to the government, residents are often reluctant to be relocated.

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The BBC's Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia says troops are patrolling in West Point, the country's largest slum which is home to more than 50,000 and sprawls along the Atlantic coast. Ferries have been halted and coast-guard boats are monitoring the coastline.

Our reporter says fear and tension has been growing in the slum for days and residents feel not enough has been done to protect them.

But President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said people were not heeding government warnings.

"We have been unable to control the spread due to continued denials, cultural varying practices, disregard for the advice of health workers and disrespect for the warnings by the government," she said on Tuesday evening.

Some people have dismissed the Ebola outbreak as a hoax, while others do not trust Western medicine, saying the disease is the result of witchcraft.

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Ebola Virus Disease (EVD)
A fruit bat is pictured in 2010 at the Amneville zoo in France. Fruit bats are believed to be a major carrier of the Ebola virus but do not show symptoms
  • Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
  • Fatality rate can reach 90% - but current outbreak has about 55%
  • Incubation period is two to 21 days
  • There is no vaccine or cure
  • Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting can help recovery
  • Fruit bats, a delicacy for some West Africans, are considered to be virus' natural host
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West Point residents last weekend attacked a quarantine centre, looting mattresses and helping suspected Ebola patients to leave, potentially helping to spread the virus to other parts of the capital.

Dolo Town, about 40km (25 miles) from Monrovia, has also been put under quarantine and all entertainment centres are to be closed and video centres are to shut by 18:00 local time.

Members of Liberia's Ebola Task Force ride in the back of a pickup as they enforce a quarantine on the West Point slum on 20 August 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia Forces from the police, army and fire service are being used to enforce the Ebola quarantine in Monrovia
Liberian soldiers on the streets of Monrovia. Photo: 19 August 2014 Liberia is already under a state of emergency

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf also imposed a nationwide curfew.

There is no known cure for Ebola, but the WHO has ruled that untested drugs can be used to treat patients in light of the scale of the current outbreak.

The experimental drug ZMapp has been used to treat several people who contracted Ebola in Liberia but the US firm that makes the drug says it has for now run out of it, so the only way to stop the current outbreak is to isolate the victims.

Ebola deaths in West Africa

Up to 14 October

4,555

Deaths -probable, confirmed and suspected

(Includes one death in US)

  • 2,484 Liberia

  • 862 Guinea

  • 1200 Sierra Leone

  • 8 Nigeria

Getty

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