Ebola Dispatch from Liberia’s Northwest

West Point Health and Sanitation Office; Photo Credit: Joseph Hong)

West Point Health and Sanitation Office                  (Photo Credit: Joseph Hong)

Francis Lansana, Accountability Resident, Liberia

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Bomi and Grand Cape Mount counties in the Northwest of Liberia. Quarantines were imposed on these counties for much of August in an attempt to combat the spread of Ebola.  The quarantine imposed in the densely populated township of West Point, in the capital, drew considerable media attention, however similar measures have inflicted strain over other parts of the country as well.

In the counties of Bomi, Grand Cape Mount, and Gbarpolu, severe travel restrictions remain in place, despite the widespread condemnations that the quarantine measures received.  Klay, a strategically located town in Bomi County that serves as an access point for much of Liberia’s Northwest is flooded with armed personnel. Nominally, the security forces are manning checkpoints and monitoring travelers to ensure that individuals affected with the Ebola virus are not mobile and avoiding designated facilities.

However, my experience was that these roadblocks play no substantive role in halting the spread of the virus.  Unlike the detailed measures taken for air travelers out of Liberia, there were no steps in place at the roadblocks in Klay to assess if a traveler suffered from Ebola.  Security forces merely asked travelers to present their id cards, a step universal at the ubiquitous roadblocks in Liberia.

In my discussions with residents of the region, it quickly became clear that Ebola response teams and Ebola sensitization messages were making minimal impact.  While the government often notes that Liberians should stop denying the existence of Ebola and transparently report any suspected cases, citizens in these counties countered by noting that Ebola response teams are not addressing their concerns in a timely manner or providing useful or comprehensible public health education messages.

I also observed the strain that the situation is placing on food security in the region.  The government is stressing that citizens should avoid the consumption of bush meat.  As a result, diets are lacking a significant amount of protein.  In much of rural Liberia, bush meat is how many Liberians get their protein, so proper nutrition is now a problem. People are beginning to starve in many places. Fish are another important source of protein, but the rainy season (now coming to an end) makes it difficult to harvest them from creeks and rivers.

While the rapid spread of Ebola in Liberia’s capital is gaining international attention, there is also a crisis in Liberia’s more rural areas. Greater efforts centering around awareness and resource distribution are needed to ensure that Ebola is effectively tackled in all corners of Liberia and that the crisis does not have disastrous consequences for long-term community relations.

To help support the Lab’s efforts to alleviate Ebola fall out, please vote for us at the Innovating Justice Awards here.

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