MONROVIA, Liberia – Hundreds of residents of a Liberian slum lined up to receive rice and water from government officials Thursday in their neighbourhood which was sealed off from the rest of the capital in an attempt to halt the spread of Ebola.
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Security forces erected barbed-wire wrapped barricades on Wednesday to cut off West Point. Food prices inside the impoverished peninsula began to rise almost immediately. Residents clashed with police and soldiers hours after their neighbourhood was sealed off, furious that they were being blamed and cut off from markets and jobs. But the situation was calm Thursday.
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“The township was quiet last night but what we now need is food,” said Richard Kieh, a West Point resident Thursday morning.
By afternoon, government officials had arrived with bags of rice, sachets of drinking water and cooking oil. Hundreds of anxious residents lined up at the distribution point, and officials warned the operation could take all day. The World Food Program said it would also begin distributing food in the area in the coming days.
At least 50,000 people live in the half-mile-long (kilometre-long) West Point peninsula, where water is brought in by wheelbarrow and public defecation is a major problem.
The clashes Wednesday between West Point residents and security forces left at least three people injured, who were shown on a local TV station. A nationwide nighttime curfew, first imposed countrywide in Liberia on Wednesday night, has also been put in place to try to get the outbreak under control.
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Liberia is being hit especially hard by the dreaded virus that has killed more than 1,300 people in West Africa in the largest outbreak of Ebola ever.
Several counties and districts in Sierra Leone and Liberia have been cordoned off, and there are concerns this is slowing the supply of food and other goods to these areas. The World Food Program is preparing to feed 1 million people affected by such travel restrictions.
The current outbreak in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria is the largest ever, and officials have said that treatment centres are filling up faster than new ones can be opened or expanded. This leaves the sick packing hallways, potentially infecting more people.
Officials from the World Health Organization were visiting two hospitals in Monrovia on Thursday that are treating Ebola patients and struggling to keep up with the influx of patients.
In the United States, two aid worker who were infected in Liberia have recovered and were discharged from a hospital.
Both Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol had received ZMapp, an experimental and unproven treatment for Ebola.
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Three health workers are currently receiving the same treatment in Liberia – the first and so far only Africans to get the drug – were showing “very positive signs of recovery,” Liberia’s information ministry said earlier this week. A Spaniard who had contracted Ebola and also received the treatment died. The drug supply is now exhausted, the U.S. manufacturer has said.
Ebola is transmitted by direct contact with the bodily fluids of someone who is sick and showing symptoms. To stop its spread, experts say, the sick should be isolated and not have any contact with the healthy. Overcrowded treatment centres, reluctance on the part of sick people to seek medical care and burial practices that involve touching the dead have helped fuel the disease’s spread.
Several airlines have also suspended flights to the affected countries, despite the World Health Organization’s advice that Ebola is unlikely to spread through air travel. Guinea’s president, Alpha Conde, met airline representatives and foreign diplomats on Wednesday to reassure them that Guinea is screening passengers leaving the country for fever and other symptoms, in line with WHO recommendations.
Associated Press writer Boubacar Diallo in Conakry, Guinea, contributed to this report.