FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

18 August 2014

Liberia: West Point Runs Amok - Why Was Ebola Isolation Unit Ransacked

Photo: FrontPageAfrica
Suspected Ebola patients waiting inside ELWA fence for medical attention in Monrovia, Liberia.

Monrovia — "I saw sick people being taken out of the Ebola Center by West Pointers. They were actually holding them; some took them home to care for them. As I speak the police station is deserted, there is no security now in West Point. I said to myself what a place. West Point people really shocked me yesterday." Moses Teah, a resident of West Point.

The scene in the West Point area Liberia's biggest slum community was one of disbelief as some residents still grappling to come to terms of the events of late Saturday afternoon when some residents of the community stormed and looted an isolated center where suspected Ebola patients were being held.

FrontPageAfrica has gathered that on Saturday the scene was one of chaos as residents ran amok as others set up roadblocks as news spread that the ministry of health was moving another Ebola patient into the center. But it turned out that it was food and mattresses that were being brought in to the sick that have been isolated from the rest of the world.

But this move by the ministry caused some tension and others saw it as an opportunity to cause chaos. Stones began to fly according to eyewitnesses; one vehicle belonging to the Liberia National Police, which was providing backup, was hit and the LNP was forced to retreat. As the police retreated the area became vulnerable, according to eyewitnesses and the looters set in and started to bring out the patients, rice, mattresses, blankets, not even afraid to touch the sick.

"I saw sick people being taken out of the Ebola Center by West Pointers. They were actually holding them; some took them home to care for them," Moses Teah a resident of the area told FrontPageAfrica in utter disbelief on Sunday morning. "As I speak the police station is deserted, there is no security now in West Point. I said to myself what a place. West Point people really shocked me yesterday."

Sources say seventeen (17) suspected and some confirmed Ebola patients escaped the isolation center, but the Health Ministry at a news conference in Monrovia told journalists that the center was home to close to 30 patients who were under supervision as they were showing signs of the disease but had not been confirmed of the deadly Ebola virus.

"We did open something we describe as a holding unit; this is a concept that came about because of the outflow of patients in the community and so the commissioner noticed that people were buried secretly in the West Point Area," said Tolbert Nyenswah, assistant minister for health.

"Let it be known that the patients that were in there were suspects because of the presentation of signs and symptoms of the disease. We also know that there is a thin line between the signs and symptoms of Ebola and the signs and symptoms of other diseases like Malaria, Typhoid, diarrhea and the rest of them."

He said some of the residents of the area looted the place because they saw health workers taking relief items into the Isolation center that had been set up in a Monrovia Consolidated School System MCSS school in the area. He confirmed reports that the patients had escaped the area, leaving the facility empty.

"When the community saw we were carrying supplies, food and beddings for those people, some young people got agitated and jumped in the area and scared away those patients there," he said. "Those people the bulk of them, close to 80 to 90 percent live in that community- from West Point. So, they have moved back to the houses that they came from."

Nyenswah said the ministry was asked by the commissioner of West Point to set up the holding facility because the area was becoming notorious to a secret burial of people who were dying of unknown causes.

"They were burying people behind a river called devil island and so since people were buried secretly, the commissioner thought it wise to come in at the ministry of health so that we discuss how to respond to the situation in the West Point Area, so that it didn't blow into a full-scale Ebola outbreak in that area," he said.

"There were patients that were suspected in that area. The MCSS Building called the Nathaniel V. Massaquoi School, opposite a church in West Point was opened by us, with the capacity of about 30 patients that were in there."

Sam Tarplah, a registered nurse who is managing the self-initiative isolation center early Saturday morning took journalists on a tour of a facility where the suspected Ebola patients were being kept in isolation.

From a concrete fence and a building with half transparent windows, the suspected Ebola patients are visibly seen at the center with those who are a little stronger communicating loudly. One patient yelled: "I have been here one week, one shouted; your bring us food", through the window of the room they were being kept in similar to the sound you hear from prisoners at the Monrovia Central Prison.

Nurse Tarplah told reporters that some of the people kept at the center at the NV Massaquoi School have died and others are strongly showing the signs of the virus and told to be in isolation at home because of insufficient space at the ELWA isolation center but Nyenswah told journalists on Sunday that there were no confirmed case at the holding facility.

Tarplah said, knowing the risk the presence of these Ebola suspected patients will cause the community when they at home, he decided to keep them in one location, though not in the same room. According to him, there were a total of 29 persons at the center, but none had died over the last few days. A day ago, he said one of the patients, very weak, fell on his forehead and died.

Patient Flees

He said on Friday, a lady from Bardnersville who brought food for her husband and a son, two of them suspected Ebola cases, though another nurse said they were positive, became angry when she was not allowed entry and as such, some residents of West Point, assisted her in erecting sticks on the wall of the fence where the man and his son escaped. Late Saturday night, the remaining 17 left the isolation center assisted by angry residents of the West Point Community.

Tarplah said a group of people overwhelmed the center chanting slogans such as "NO Ebola, Ellen broke, she want more money; she lies about Ebola" and helped the 17 patients to leave the center. Tarplah said his vehicle was partly damaged by the group some of whom are against the establishment of such center in their community. "I am on my way to the Ministry of Health right now, the people came and opened the place with force, they even spoiled my car", Tarplah said.

The medical humanitarian group Samaritan Purse experienced similar resistance in the ELWA community when they tried to expand the treatment and the containment center at the facility, forcing the group to abandon their plans to widen the scope of their work in the area. The West Point Community is densely populated and Assistant Health Minister for Curative and Preventive Services, Tolbert Nyeswah said Thursday that the Health Ministry has planned to quarantine the entire community to prevent people from moving in and out.

"We will soon quarantine West Point, we are trying to get food and other needs before we effect the action", Nyeswah said. As the news of quarantining the area spreads, residents have become angry over the planned action and have been threatening to resist. On Saturday morning some West Point residents, mainly youths were making threatening remarks "We will not move around, your come try it, your will see; your want make money out of West Point, let see".

West Point, located on a peninsula which juts out into the Atlantic between the Mesurado and St. Paul Rivers is home to approximately 75,000 people and is easily one of Monrovia's most densely populated neighborhoods hampered by overpopulation and a host of diseases.

The community's problems have been crippled by the lack of proper sanitation, public toilets. A UN report estimates that there are four public toilets in the area and while some sections of the area have paid public toilets, many cannot afford, forcing resident to use the surrounding areas to ease themselves.

Outside West Point, several communities around Monrovia are also going through tough patches. Sick patients have been pleading for more than a week to get medical team's assistance, but many of those pleads are falling on deaf ears as bodies are taking longer to be collected.

In the 5th Street Community in Sinkor, a body lasted three days before community dwellers staged a protest blocking the main Tubman Boulevard Road to claim the attention of health authorities on Thursday.

On the Capitol By-Pass, the wife of Aloysius Mulbah, now a former employee of the General Auditing Commission, Konah Kupee said her late husband had been calling health workers since Thursday last week but to avail until he died a week later, on Friday August 15 before the health team arrived to take his blood specimen. Konah told FrontPageAfrica that she has been attending to her sick husband since Thursday last when he got critically ill repeatedly calling health authorities to take him only to receive numerous promises.

Calls on Deaf Ears

"My husband called, I called, his brothers called, aunties, we all called on different numbers but nobody has been able to come so when the sickness got serious, we have to leave him in the room and he has been crying there but since 5 am this morning no sound, so I do not know what is happening to him" Konah narrated.

Mulbah was later confirmed dead on Friday afternoon and according to family sources, his result has shown positive for the deadly Ebola virus. Mulbah had a few weeks ago attended the burial ceremony of an Uncle, Santo Mulbah along with other family members.

Konah was spotted lying under a tree at the ELWA compound on Sunday morning. She told FrontPageAfrica that since her husband's death, she has been experiencing fever and decided to go to the ELWA for treatment but nobody has been able to attend to her. She and several other suspected Ebola patients showing signs and symptoms of the virus as they sat under the tree trembling were seen unattended to.

In the Mount Barclay community, one resident informed FrontPageAfrica late Saturday that they are planning a protest action come Sunday to draw the attention of the Health Ministry toward uncollected bodies in their community. Another family member who formed part of the burial, died three days before Aloysius death.

Up to Sunday afternoon the residents were still calling to voice out their anger over the slow pace of the removal of bodies and isolation of suspected Ebola patients in the community. The resident, Shedrick Bettie said over 13 deaths have occurred in the area over the last one week days with seven critically ill and some of the bodies remain uncollected for more than two days now.

According to the World Health Organization, the latest toll has climbed to 1,069. Several international airlines have already cancelled flights with Kenya Airways becoming the latest.

Compounding the dilemma are mounting criticisms of the government, which was quoted by the Associated Press Friday as having spent $US12 million (nine million euros) in tackling the Ebola outbreak between April and June, and looks set to spend much more in the coming weeks. Many Liberians are unsure how that much money was spent with so many bodies piling up and residents' anger growing by the day.

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