Ebola exposes Liberia's health problems

2014-10-05 19:58
(File, AFP)

(File, AFP)

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Monrovia - The spreading of the Ebola virus from Africa to the US has exposed the multiple problems in Liberia, where an overloaded healthcare system, poverty and an unresponsive government have deepened the crisis.

Thomas Eric Duncan was hospitalised in Dallas, Texas on 28 September, becoming the first case to be registered outside Africa.

He caught the deadly fever from Marthalyn Williams, the daughter of his landlord in Paynesville, a suburb of the Liberian capital Monrovia, shortly before he caught a flight to the United States.

Williams, who was pregnant, later died. She infected four people who have also succumbed to the virus as well as her parents, who are being treated in an Ebola centre, according to Liberian authorities.

Travel together

Such stories have become disturbingly common in Liberia, the worst hit of the West African nations at the centre of the epidemic, which has already killed 3 439 people, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organisation.

Of these, 2 069 died in Liberia, where entire families have been wiped out as they try to help each other.

Doctors Without Borders, which is spearheading efforts to contain the disease, say as many as two-thirds of infected Liberians will never reach a treatment centre.

A major shortage of ambulances, combined with endemic poverty, also mean families often have no choice but to travel together in taxis.

The virus can survive for hours after they leave the car.

The "Ebola Task Force" in Paynesville has tried to locate everyone that came into contact with Williams.

"We have found five people," said one of the team, Peter Blidi. They have been placed under observation for 21 days, the maximum incubation period for the virus.

Reaction time

Blidi criticised the inertia of Liberian officials: "At the beginning, we signalled these cases to the government who were deaf to our appeals. They have been asleep in the face of this epidemic, so we are working at the community level."

It is a feeling shared by Laurence Sailly, head of the MSF centre at Paynesville, who criticised the reaction time of ambulances and said the government had failed on even "basic logistics".

"The system doesn't work," she said.

Patient distribution was a particular problem, she added. While most centres are overwhelmed, the MSF centre has dozens of spare beds.

On Saturday, the Texan hospital where he is being treated since 28 September said he was "in critical condition", without giving further details.


Liberia, too, is in critical condition - a situation not helped by news on Saturday that two clinics were being closed in Bomi province, northwest of the capital, after two staff members died from Ebola.

Read more on:    who  |  msf  |  us  |  liberia  |  ebola  |  health  |  west africa

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