FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

19 August 2014

Liberia: West Point Inferno - Eyewitness Accounts of Ebola Isolation Saga

Photo: Idrissa Soumare / IFRC
Volunteers also hand out soap and a chlorine solution for disinfecting premises.

Tolbert Nyenswah, Assistant Health Minister for Curative Services, gives the government's version of what happened in West Point at a news conference on Sunday...

"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. 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.

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. When the community saw we were carrying supplies, food and beddings for those people, some young people got agitated and jumped into the area and scared away those patients there. 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 sign and symptoms of Ebola and the signs and symptoms of other diseases like Malaria, Typhoid, diarrhea and the rest of them."

Monrovia - Residents of Monrovia are still finding it difficult to grapple with the fact that an Ebola isolation center was looted on Saturday, with the sick taken out. A few yards from the fence of the M. V. Massaquoi Public School, where close to thirty patients showing signs of the deadly Ebola virus were being held in isolation, residents tell FrontPageAfrica of the horror story they witnessed firsthand on Saturday. The residents say the isolation center was a public health hazard for them and their families. They said they had earlier expressed disenchantment over the establishment of the center, but the government did not listen.

Some even alleged that the government lied to them about the real nature of what was being done on the fence that housed the isolation center and they only saw health workers bringing in the sick, food and mattresses every day. Some residents felt sick to their stomach that such action of looting could take place at an Ebola isolation center. West Point is traumatized; the facility remains vandalized, as the Police have deserted, the only debate in the community. But the government contends that the community was aware and it was the commissioner of the area who authorized the establishment of the center. The government is looking to quarantine the West Point Area.

Harrison Tweh, a resident of West Point gives an eyewitness account of what happened on Saturday at the M. V. Massaquoi Public School

"I came from selling and met a group of people running so I followed them with my wheelbarrow. As soon as I got over there I saw a slim and tall lady; she was the first person that went to the door. She stepped (kicked) the door and said: "Why are you keeping the people here when you are not feeding them? All of you come and get outside." That's how she opened the gate and the whole group entered with force. Some people took mattresses; some took bed sheets with blood stains on them and took it to their various homes. Some took the sick from the mattresses and put them on the floor and took the mattresses away.

I saw some guys with some of the mattresses, running on the Kru Beach towards the river. By that time there was no Police here. The Police escorted the health workers when they were bringing someone to the center, but the people resisted and so the Police took the person back. Some people in West Point don't believe Ebola is here because when you are talking to them to say Ebola is here, they deny it. Some of them say that the doctors have not confirmed that those who were at the center had Ebola. In my opinion, I blame the commissioner and the Representative."

J. Breezo, a resident said the government was wrong to set up an isolation center in West Point

"It is wrong. You did not inform the community and then you set up an isolation center for Ebola patients. Is it because you are the government or because we have no power? Here's my house, at night the people used to be crying saying they are hungry. None of those people in the building were from West Point. They came from different areas. One of the women who jumped over the fence on Saturday requested for water to drink. It was more like a prison."

Tupee Doe, resident of West Point

"I went Robertsfield Highway to my mother, but that day when I was coming back, everyone went indoors and I saw cars passing by the Police, so I got concerned and was wondering what was going on in West Point. But when I got home, I was told that Ebola patient was brought here on M. V. Massaquoi School Campus. I got afraid and started hoarding my children indoors because I live next to the school. For me, I looked through the hole and I heard people crying and I saw a boy and a girl coming from inside the car. The clothes that the patients were wearing was set on fire and so it started to make smoke in the area. Then the next thing I heard was people saying 'we don't want Ebola center here'. I am a resident of West Point; I do not really embrace the idea of people bringing Ebola patients here because I have my children here."

Foday Kanneh (2Flow), resident of West Point

"We will welcome it if they take it to the Catholic Hospital. It was wrong for the government to lie to us. They told us they were going to test our blood to see if we are infected with the virus. But by the time we knew it it was different people that they brought here who is not even part of West Point. It sent people healthier shelter in West Point as though we were fighting wars. We saw niggard (Police) with arms. Some of us in this community can get high (smoking weed) and so when they see our eyes red, they say that Ebola. They took one of our friends because his eyes were red, but he was only high, he did not have Ebola."

Mildred Kligbeh, resident of West Point

"I just live there. I came on Saturday and there was heavy smoke coming from the fence. I went to the security who was taking care of the fence and asked him what was causing the smoke and he said they were burning the materials they use on the sick people in there. So I said we have our children here and we are afraid this thing will affect us and he told me not to be afraid. There are holes out of the fence where some of the things they were using on the sick was coming out of our side. I went and told my women's group that I don't like what was happening, that's how we came to the gate."

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InFocus

Liberia: What Happened at Ebola Unit?

Volunteers also hand out soap and a chlorine solution for disinfecting premises.

Residents of West Point give their eyewitness accounts of what happened when a group of people ransacked an Ebola isolation centre in Liberia. Read more »