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Liberia taking difficult decisions to limit movement in Ebola areas

media A UNICEF worker speaks to residents about the symptoms of Ebola virus in … Photo: Reuters/Ahmed Jallanzo/UNICEF/Handout

Liberia’s government is encouraging residents in three quarantined areas of the country to limit their movements to help prevent the spread of the deadly Ebola virus. Information Minister Lewis Brown said on Monday that the government is delivering food and medical supplies to those areas in the hope that residents will stay put. Ebola has killed 227 people in Liberia since the start of the year. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf last week announced the closure of schools and put non-essential government workers on 30 days leave. RFI spoke to Liberian Information Minister Lewis Brown on how Liberia is coping with the haemorrhagic disease.

Could you give us an update on the situation with Ebola in Liberia?

Decisions have been made to quarantine certain areas, we’re looking at enforcing those decisions, providing much needed food and medical supplies into those areas to incentivise, if you will, the lack of movement of people affected. We’re looking at optimising care in many of our public healthcare facilities. Some of them were shut down because of threat to healthcare workers.

Could you tell us more about this quarantining, which areas of the country will you be putting into quarantine?

These are areas that are most affected, they include areas in Lofa, Montserrado and in Bomi. These areas are highly infected. We’re trying to provide the wherewithal these communities need, including basic information as to what to do and how to get help. But you know that the three heads of state met over the weekend in Conakry and agreed that each side will work to quarantine a little axis where the three countries meet. That place accounts for more that 70 per cent of the infection. That includes a portion of Lofa from our side, from the Liberian side. So we’re working to make sure that that decision is enforced.

How will you be enforcing the quarantine? Are you deploying troops to this area?

It’s a combination of efforts. We’re deploying troops to enforce the quarantine orders. But at the same time we’re providing incentives so that people reduce their appetite to move around. It includes supply of food, supply of medication as when and needed to ensure that people have no desire, or no need, to leave their areas, to leave their places of quarantine to infect other areas.

According to news reports there are apparently a series of roadblocks that have been set up by residents in Monrovia to protest the response to the Ebola crisis.

Yes, we’re getting these reports and we’re responding to these reports. We can confirm a few of the communities are concerned about the slow pace of which calls for help are being responded to, especially with the retrieval of bodies. Now if there is a silver lining here it is that people are no longer following their own instincts to bury bodies as they did in the past. The second level of resistance we’re having is that people don’t want bodies buried in their communities, even if those people have lived in those communities, even if the safety protocols of burying, of interment no less than two metres. People are concerned that in five years in 10 years with the heavier downpour that we’re experiencing, it could undermine base water. So we’re getting so bogged down with these calls. That is why the president only yesterday had an inter-agency coordination meeting and has ordered additional support to the response team. We’re going to do our best to improve the coordination. But we’re pleased, if you will, as bad as things are, that people are no longer taking the risk of touching, burying their loved ones. They’re now referring to the health team. We need to now increase our responses so that their confidence level can be improved and we’re working on that as we speak.

You’ve said that all of the bodies must now be cremated because burial ceremonies played a role in the transmission of the virus. Could you give us more details of how you will be going about this process of cremating the victims?

This has been a sort-of emotional and difficult decision. The president a few days ago asked the ministry of health to give consideration to cremation because of the same questions about what could happen in a couple of years in these communities. We were getting resistance from the communities that their loved ones should not be buried in their community. So that consideration has now morphed into a full-blown decision that the first option for disposal of the bodies will be by cremation. There is a crematorium here. It was assessed and minor repairs done to the facility and the process began today.

Anything that I’ve missed or anything that’s important to point out to our listeners?

We’ll continue to face the challenges that we’re dealing with. One decision as you know in these kinds of matters leads to unintended consequence, we’re trying to grapple with it. What should be said as well is that this is not just Liberia’s problem. Our public healthcare facilities are overstretched and overtaxed. We do need international assistance, we do need help, we need counsellors, we need additional hands, we need PPE, Personal Protective Equipment, we need food. Any assistance that can be provided our country will definitely appreciate it.

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