Cynicism dies hard in Ebola-hit Liberian slum

October 4, 2014 | By | Reply More

Oct 04, – In the narrow, gloomy alleyways of one of west Africa’s largest slums, Liberian teenagers explain the dangers of Ebola to their neighbours — but the message is falling on deaf ears.

hromedia Cynicism dies hard in Ebola-hit Liberian slum health news2West Point, a squalid township of 75,000 jutting from Liberia’s capital Monrovia into the Atlantic Ocean, has been awash with cynicism since being quarantined at gunpoint after riots in August.

The population density in the byzantine network of tin-roofed shanties is staggering. People live cheek-by-jowl, touching, jostling — and presenting the perfect opportunity for proliferation of a virus that many residents even refuse to believe exists.

“It’s one of the worst communities in Liberia. There are a lot of bad guys, a lot of violence and criminality,” says social worker Prezton Vaye.

A group of young girls in West Point are on the front line of the fight against an epidemic which has killed 2,000 Liberians, with an initiative they call “A-Life”, or “Adolescents Leading the Intense Fight against Ebola”.

They have received training to deliver information from UNICEF and a local charity called Think on preventing the spread of the tropical pathogen.

The girls have a shared history: A-Life is the second iteration of a community support group they formed to combat sexual violence.

They were persuaded Ebola was an even more pressing concern however when an armed mob attacked and looted an isolation centre in the slum, sparking a national panic when a group of infected patients escaped.

The government’s response to the incident was swift and brutal. On August 20 the slum’s residents were surrounded by a cordon of soldiers and heavily armed police.

A riot ensued, with the inhabitants pelting security forces with stones and provoking return fire. A teenager, Siafa Kamara, was fatally wounded.

The lockdown stayed in place for ten days and, by the time it was lifted, many residents had decided there was no Ebola in West Point at all, heightening their sense of injustice at having been penned in.

– ‘People don’t listen’ –

“I want to help my fellow citizens. There are a lot of sick people in West Point, but the people here still don’t believe Ebola is real, because they don’t see (anyone) die,” says Jessica Neufville, 16.

Twice a week, around 60 teenagers in sky blue T-shirts fan out through West Point’s alleys, going from door to door, or opening to opening where no doors have been installed.

“We tell people how they can protect themselves: no shaking hands, avoid body fluid contact. We tell them that if someone in the family is sick, one particular person should take care of the sick, in a specific room,” Jessica tells AFP.

The response, she says, is often mistrust, or blank faces at best.

Press journalist for HRO media – Dr. Carlos reports.

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Category: Health and Fitness, International

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