August 2014 – AFRICA – To try to control the Ebola epidemic spreading through West Africa, Liberia has quarantined remote villages at the epicenter of the virus, evoking the “plague villages” of medieval Europe that were shut off from the outside world. With few food and medical supplies getting in, many abandoned villagers face a stark choice: stay where they are and risk death or skip quarantine, spreading the infection further in a country ill-equipped to cope. In Boya, in northern Liberia’s Lofa County, Joseph Gbembo, who caught Ebola and survived, says he is struggling to raise 10 children under five years old and support five widows after nine members of his family were killed by the virus. Fearful of catching Ebola themselves, the 30-year-old’s neighbors refuse to speak with him and blame him for bringing the virus to the village. “I am lonely,” he said. “Nobody will talk to me and people run away from me.” He says he has received no food or health care for the children and no help from government officials. Aid workers say that if support does not arrive soon, locals in villages like Boya, where the undergrowth is already spreading among the houses, will simply disappear down jungle footpaths. “If sufficient medication, food and water are not in place, the community will force their way out to fetch food and this could lead to further spread of the virus,” said Tarnue Karbbar, a worker for charity Plan International based in Lofa County/
Ebola has killed at least 1,145 people in four African nations, but in the week through to August 13, Lofa County recorded more new cases than anywhere else – 124 new cases of Ebola and 60 deaths. The World Health Organization and Liberian officials have warned that, with little access by healthcare workers to the remote areas hidden deep in rugged jungle zones, the actual toll may be far higher. Troops have been deployed under operation “White Shield” to stop people from abandoning homes and infecting others in a country where the majority of cases remain at large, either because clinics are full or because they are scared of hospitals regarded as ‘death traps.’ “There has to be concern that people in quarantined areas are left to fend for themselves,” said Mike Noyes, head of humanitarian response at ActionAid UK. “Who is going to be the police officer who goes to these places? There’s a risk that these places become plague villages.” Aid workers say the virus reminds them of the forces roaming Liberia during the civil war, making it a byword for brutality. “It was like the war. It was so desolate,” said Adolphus Scott, a worker for U.N. child agency UNICEF describing Zango Town in the jungles of northern Liberia, where most of the 2,000 residents had either died of Ebola or fled.
In recognition of the region’s inability to cope, the World Health Organization this week declared Ebola an international health emergency – only the third time in its 66-year history it has taken this step. Neighbors Guinea and Sierra Leone have placed checkpoints in Gueckedou and Kenema, creating a cross-border quarantine zone of roughly 20,000 square km, about the size of Wales, called the “unified sector.” Within this massive area, Information Minister Lewis Brown described more intense quarantine measures in Lofa county, ring fencing areas where up to 70 percent of people are infected. Access to these hot spots is now cut off except for medical workers,” he said in an interview this week. Reaching the sick in isolated villages there is critical because the county’s main Foya health centre is full. The site was run by U.S. charity Samaritan’s Purse until it pulled out after two of its health workers contracted the virus in Monrovia. Medical charity MSF, which has now stepped in, says 137 patients are packed into the 40-bed site.
But Liberia’s response team is struggling to keep up. The main health care centre in Lofa is “overwhelmed” by new patients, a health ministry report said. A total of 13 health care workers have already died from Ebola in the county while its surveillance office lacks computers to manage cases. Liberia’s Brown also acknowledged the risk: “We can establish as many checkpoints as we want but if we cannot get the food and the medical supplies in to affected communities, they will leave.” Even if the resources arrive, help might be chased away. Unlike in other areas of the country, where Ebola awareness campaigns are helping to draw people out of hiding, in this isolated border region, far from the otherwise ubiquitous ‘Ebola is Real’ government billboards, denial is still strong. According to a local rumour, merchants dressed as health workers are taking people away in order to sell human organs, provoking violent reactions from locals, Karbarr said. –Yahoo News