Liberia and the Ebola Epidemic: Greetings from the Epicenter of West Africa’s Ebola Epidemic!

This is the first in a series of reports from Dr. Mardia Stone describing her thoughts and first-hand experiences with the Ebola epidemic and is effect on the Liberian people.

I arrived here August 15th and hit the ground running.  It has been hectic, a lot of meetings with a lot of experts. I know you are all watching the news on various sites around the globe, much of which is reported accurately, some sensationalized.

West Point Slum — The Full Story

West Point is a densely populated township situated on a peninsula which juts out into the Atlantic Ocean between the Mesurado and Saint Paul rivers. 

In the best of times, West Point is a difficult place. With Ebola, it is a powder keg waiting to explode.

It is one of the major hotspots of the epidemic and a breeding ground for the rapid transmission of the Ebola virus.   It is an urban environment of abject poverty, densely populated with houses that are practically built on top of each other, no running water and no toilet facilities. This community’s reaction to the exigencies caused by the Ebola virus thrust it into the international spotlight---painting its citizens as uneducated, irrational mobs, hell bent on spreading the virus. 

The most recent story about the holding center in West Point is not entirely accurate.  Here is the real story:
 
The West Point community, of its own volition, decided to set up a center within the community where only West Point Community residents who had been directly exposed to an Ebola patient would be taken and supported until tested by the MOH laboratory officials. The center was created and operated by the sole initiative of West Point residents. If patients were confirmed positive on MoH testing, they would then be taken to an Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU), of which there are two in Monrovia.  If negative, they would be released from the center and followed up within the 21 days incubation period of the virus.  

To clarify and reiterate, the west point center was identified by the residents and set up by residents with support from the Ministry of Health (MoH)!  
 
The West Point Community made an agreement with the MOH for Support to the Center.  This included, providing the necessary supplies to run the center (mattresses, food, water, supportive care and rapid removal of any one who became sick and manifested Ebola’s symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, fever, bleeding etc).
 
On Saturday, August 16, the MoH delivered the requested items to the Center.  Subsequent to that, the Center’s organizers found that there were several persons in the center who were not West Point residents. For example, one had come from a far flung county in the west of the country.  The West Point residents were infuriated and accused MoH officials of telling the public about their center and sending people from other communities there.  The residents felt betrayed as that was not the agreement they’d struck with the already poor residents of West Point.   The community reacted by removing everyone (36 persons) and all supplies out of the Center, dispersed residents back into the community and chased out non-residents.  
 
As of Monday, August 18, ten of the 36 people were recovered by MoH and taken to one of the MoH ETUs.  The Government also dispatched logistics teams and police to West Point and met with community leaders to curb any acceleration of the uprising.

In short, the incident at West Point was not an armed robbery. It was "community justice" by West Pointers who are trying to cope with and control a rapidly deteriorating situation. It was a reaction of a community that had developed a mechanism that was helping to control the spread of the virus in its community, despite the little support it received from the MoH.


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