Kroma came to the West Point holding center with her sister, her three children, a cousin named Bindu, and two other family members. They are all women, or girls — most caregivers in Liberia are — and they washed Kroma’s clothes, fed her rice, wiped down her body, and cleaned up her vomit with a rag and some chlorine.
Those are the kinds of chores that give you Ebola. And the girls had no gloves. All the gloves the Ministry of Health brought this place when it opened yesterday, all 150 of them, were gone by the middle of the night.
That’s when three people escaped. Because Sam Tarplah and his staff didn’t have any gloves, they couldn’t restrain the patients who wanted to flee. They could only plead.
“We begged them, told them people are coming tomorrow to help you,” Tarplah said. “But there was no way we could fight them.”
Two escaped by climbing the back wall, according to health care workers in a clinic next door. Another, a woman with five children, simply took off, Tarplah said.
Tarplah is a registered nurse who’s worked in health care in Liberia since 1989; he opened this holding center for the Ministry of Health on Thursday, and had eight patients. On Friday, before the escape, he had 29.
West Point is becoming a hot spot in a hot spot in the biggest Ebola outbreak in history. It’s an informal community, a “slum,” with no running water or toilets. People can live seven or more to a single dwelling, and the density is dangerous: A positive Ebola patient disappearing into the maze of metal shacks can be a public health horror story.
Today, things got even worse.
A mob descended on the center at around 5:30 p.m., chanting, “No Ebola in West Point! No Ebola in West Point!” They stormed the front gate and pushed into the holding center. They stole the few gloves someone had donated this morning, and the chlorine sprayers used to disinfect the bodies of those who die here, all the while hollering that Ebola is a hoax.
They ransacked the protective suits, the goggles, the masks. They destroyed part of Tarplah’s car as he was fleeing the crowd.
Jemimah Kargbo, a health care worker at a clinic next door, said they took mattresses and bedding, utensils and plastic chairs.
“Everybody left with their own thing,” she said. “What are they carrying to their homes? They are carrying their deaths.”
She said the police showed up but the crowd intimidated them.
“The police were there but they couldn’t contain them. They started threatening the police, so the police just looked at them,” she said.
And then mob left with all of the patients.
“They said, ‘The president says you have Ebola, but you don’t have Ebola, you have malaria. Get up and go out!’” Kargbo said.
Residents of a Liberian slum have looted a quarantined clinic for patients suspected of carrying the deadly virus, carrying off items including “bloody sheets and mattresses,” now officials fear “Ebola could soon spread through the capital’s largest slum.”
The facility held approximately 30 patients, most of whom fled during the raid by area residents angry that patients were brought to the location from other parts of Monrovia. The patients are set to be transferred to the Ebola center as Monrovia’s largest hospital once they are located, again.
West Point residents went on a “looting spree,” stealing items from the clinic that were likely infected, said a senior police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the press. The residents took medical equipment and mattresses and sheets that had bloodstains, he said.
… “All between the houses you could see people fleeing with items looted from the patients,” the official said, adding that he now feared “the whole of West Point will be infected.”
Residents also voiced anger that patients had been kept without sufficient food and water – chiming with concerns that measures in neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia to quarantine affected communities could lead to a humanitarian crisis….
Liberia’s deputy army chief of staff, Colonel Eric W. Dennis, during a visit to the border region at the weekend gave orders to soldiers to shoot at people attempting to cross into Liberia, and pledged to supply more weapons to soldiers there.
A senior health official said all of the patients had been moved to another medical facility.
But a reporter told the BBC that 17 had escaped while 10 others were taken away by their families….
Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah said protesters had been unhappy that patients were being brought in from other parts of the capital.
Other reports suggested the protesters had believed Ebola was a hoax and wanted to force the quarantine centre to close.
The attack at the Monrovia centre is seen as a major setback in the struggle to halt the outbreak, says the BBC’s Will Ross, reporting from Lagos.
Health experts say that the key to ending the Ebola outbreak is to stop it spreading in Liberia, where ignorance about the virus is high and many people are reluctant to cooperate with medical staff.
Mr Nyenswah said after the attack that 29 patients at the centre were being relocated and readmitted to an Ebola treatment centre located in the facility of the country’s John F Kennedy Memorial Medical Center.
However, Jina Moore, a journalist for Buzzfeed who is in Monrovia, told the BBC that 10 people had been freed by their relatives on Friday night and 17 had escaped during the looting the next day.
Rebecca Wesseh, who witnessed the attack, told the AFP news agency: “They broke down the door and looted the place. The patients have all gone.”…
The attackers, mostly young men armed with clubs, shouted insults about President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and yelled “there’s no Ebola”, she said, adding that nurses had also fled the centre.
The head of the Health Workers Association of Liberia, George Williams, said the unit had housed 29 patients who “had all tested positive for Ebola” and were receiving preliminary treatment.
Confirming that 17 had escaped, he said that only three had been taken by their relatives, the other nine having died four days earlier.
However, Mr Nyenswah said it was not confirmed that the patients had Ebola.
John Moore, a senior staff photographer for Getty Images, was at the scene and told that the day began with a Liberian health ministry burial team that had come to collect four bodies of people who had died overnight. But the team, he says, was turned back by the families and the local community.
“The crowd was exuberant, having won this battle in their minds,” he says. “And then they marched on the isolation ward and pushed through the door and basically pulled out the patients. Members of this mob literally pulled people out of the isolation ward. I saw a man carrying a small girl by one arm up in the air and she was screaming, and the crowd carried them off.”
Part of the problem, Moore says, is that there’s “a fair number of people … who believe that the Ebola virus and the epidemic is a hoax, that it’s not real after all, and it’s a way for the Liberian government to bring in foreign money.”
It’s unclear what has happened to the patients: The BBC quoted a senior health official as saying they had all been moved to another facility; but a reporter that some of the patients were taken away by their families.
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