The deadly Ebola Epidemic reported to have entered the Liberian territory after the outbreak in Guinea that has killed more than eighty persons in that neighboring country is causing panic among many Liberians with market women dealing in Bush meat otherwise known as Dry meat, complaining that they are losing customers because of a government announcement warning people to stay off the local cuisine for a while.
Scientists say Ebola is transmitted to humans through several means with monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees and other animals serving as carriers of the deadly virus and Liberia's Health Minister Dr. Walter Gwenigale on Monday issued a warning to Liberians to desist from eating bush meat for now, cautioning County Superintendents to take the lead in working in their respective counties to advise the citizens from consuming bush meat.
The bush meat business is a big market in Liberia and serves as a major source of income for a whole group of people ranging from hunters to marketers who purchase directly from the hunters to sellers on the local market, onward to restaurants and other food centers before reaching a vast consuming public.
Liberia is one of the countries in the West African sub region with vast natural rain forest which has been used for hunting for centuries. In the southeastern Grand Gedeh, River Gee, Grand Kru and other counties hunting is an occupation for many. Monkey, one of the animals listed as a carrier of Ebola is a favorite bush meat for many Liberians, an aged old food and convincing people to stay away from a food they have been consuming for years is proving difficult.
Anger at the government
As deadly as the Ebola virus is, those relying on the bush meat market as their main source of income say their living is more important than prevention against Ebola as in separate interviews, marketers are contending that they are going out of business due to the pronouncement warning people to stay away from bush meat. Ma Tenneh Kamara, is a bush meat dealer at Monrovia's Waterside Market, she expresses anger at the government for what she terms a means of sabotaging their business. She told FrontPageAfrica that business has gone bad since the government made the announcement.
"I heard it is through rumor that this new sickness comes from meat; so people are not buying our meat. This few days since they started announcing this Ebola thing, people are not buying, only the food sellers are buying and majority is not cooking meat again," said Ma Tenneh.
"I am losing everything; right now I am getting in debt with people. I took meat from people and they are not buying the meat; there you can see the meat on the table there. I believe the place they talking about the sickness coming from the people are not eating dry meat there.The women who can cook food, this meat is helping them. Lest we all just pray let this whole thing finish."
The meat dealer who said she has been dealing in bush meat for the past fifteen years told FPA she cannot comprehend the reason why the government is putting a stop to a food that people have been eating for generations. She contends that even during the deadly civil war when food was scarce, Liberians were not exterminated adding that Ebola will not wipe out the entire country.
'Sickness came from Guinea'
"They said the sickness came from Guinea and people in Guinea do not eat dry meat so they just trying to spoil our business," said Ma Tenneh.
"During the war, they were eating human beings, that one na make them sick, that now they say that meat making people sick. They are spoiling our business and it is our living. The people who are eating dog meat, what they will say about them? They are just complaining about dry meat, people eating itchy dog, it is not killing them.They know how far the sickness coming from before they lying on meat."
Ma Yassah, another woman dealing in the favorite food which is eaten either smoked or fresh and cooked in all kind of Liberian dishes including palm butter, Cassava Leaves, Torborgie and Pepper Soup, said that the Ebola epidemic is taking away a vital part of the Liberian way of life-its food because without bush meat some dishes are not worth cooking or eating.
"This is our living. Like before, time like this my meat finish. Myself, I can eat meat; plenty people not buying my meat again. You know anything, whether that meat causing this sickness, it is only God hand, we in," she said.
The women who run or own local cook shops also reveal that the call made by the government through the ministry of Health is causing some shocks in their daily dealings with customers.
"I am not cooking dry meat again; the people say we must stop cooking dry meat until the tension can go down. They want to check whether that the animal bringing the sickness, they want check so for that they say we must not cook dry meat yet," said Ma Hawa Abu, a local cook shop woman who has been in the business since 2005.
"Our customers say we should not cook dry meat. I used to cook meat, sometimes I used to buy L$3,000 meat every day, sometimes L$2,500. The dry meat women are crying because we are not buying from them again."
"My customers are managing small, small, they are buying small, small but the way they used to buy before when I was cooking dry meat they are not buying like that now. Some people like Torborgee with dry meat so since no dry meat, the buying is going down."
Ma Hawa says that she is getting wary of the disease because they are compelled to take extra measures to keep them and their customers safe from the epidemic.
"All of us, we are afraid, because the way they say the thing can spread, it is plenty. I can't use glove because I am playing with food, when I use a glove, how I will fix the Fufu; I put tide soap and chloride in water and my customers can wash their hands before they eat."
'One Critical Point'
Confirming the existence of the Ebola virus in Liberia, on Monday, the government disclosed that out of the seven samples of suspected persons sent to France for testing, two cases returned confirming that two persons contracted the disease.
Dr. Gwenigale said of the two, one person died while the other who happens to be a caretaker of the dead victim is still alive but under surveillance. Therefore the eating of bush meat or having sex during the epidemic would be a bad idea, something that was also buttressed by the World Health Organization (WHO) Country Director, Dr. Nestor Ndayimirije.
"I want to mention one point which is critical. It has been seen that monkeys, Gorillas, Chimpanzees can contract the disease and sometimes the hunters get these animals when they are sick, weak but not dead. So, the public needs to know that even if they say that they have killed that animal, it may be sick. It may be in the incubation period," he said.
"So, the advice will be here for the public not to buy bush meat for a period till the outbreak is over. This means that after the last case we count forty-two days, which means one month and a half after the end of the outbreak. This is also a motivating factor to stop this epidemic, so that people can enjoy the bush meat as before."
The Ebola outbreak has caused so much anxiety across the country and it is like the nation is sitting on a ticking time bomb.