Fear in Liberia turns violent as a mob attacks an Ebola clinic

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. Truth, they say, is the first casualty of war and, as you'll hear, truth seems to be taking a beating in the war in West Africa against Ebola. Imagine denial of the disease so high that people would say it's all a hoax and then overrun an Ebola isolation unit to let all the patients out. That actually happened this weekend in a neighborhood of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. Overall, the Ebola outbreak has killed more than a thousand people in West Africa since March. Some 400 of those dead have been from Liberia and today the Liberian government is worried that after that attack on the isolation unit, some of those missing Ebola patients could be spreading the disease farther afield. Jina Moore is a reporter for BuzzFeed. She's currently on assignment in Monrovia, where we reached her this morning. I asked her to describe what happened at the Ebola clinic in Monrovia on Saturday. Jina Moore: I had been at the clinic earlier that morning just to sort of poke around and understand exactly what was going on. The clinic opened on Thursday, so two days before this happened, and it was opened because the community there, West Point, the cases are accelerating there. They're seeing more and more cases and there's concern by the health authorities here that it's becoming a hotspot of the outbreak here in Monrovia. So this center had been set up to hold people who had symptoms that led families or friends or concerned-neighbors to think that they may have Ebola. When you're symptomatic, you can be contagious, so it's really important to remove people from proximity in those moments and that's what this holding center was doing, trying to give a place for people who were exhibiting symptoms to wait while they got tested and then those confirmed cases would be sent on to a proper case management or treatment facility. That was the idea. But there's a lot of fear and misapprehension and misunderstanding of Ebola in Liberia and so after two days the community sort of turned on the clinic, turned really on the idea of Ebola and said they didn't want Ebola in West Point, that Ebola was a hoax and overran the facility, bringing all of the people who had been contained inside, out. Werman: You said Ebola is accelerating in this part of Monrovia in West Point and I think part of that is probably because of what this place is, it's one of the poorest slums in all of Africa. Describe West Point and what it looks like. Moore: The visual is very much an informal community. There's one road, essentially, one paved road that moves through it and then the neighborhood really branches off from there very organically. People have erected their homes and their homes are usually one room, maybe two-room corrugated metal structures, wherever they have a spot to erect them. So if you're moving between houses, sometimes you're doing a little bit of a shimmy as you move from what is essentially one person's front yard to another. No one has toilet facilities in their home. There's no formal power grid. There's no running water, so it's a really challenged place. It's a community known for being resource-challenged and having quite a few grievances in the best of times. Werman: Not conducive to hygiene, to say the least. Moore: That is certainly one of the challenges. Werman: We've been asking reporters in these Ebola-stricken areas how they're coping with the hygiene and protecting themselves but I'm also curious how you - you've got an understanding of microbes and contagion - how do you react when you speak with somebody in Monrovia who doesn't believe Ebola is real, who says it's a hoax? What do you tell them? Moore: Well, if they don't believe it already, they're sure not going to believe it from me, as a white foreigner who showed up a week ago and is not a public health person. That's without question. I think that these feelings that Ebola is not real, that it's a hoax, these denialist feelings come not just from a place of misunderstanding or ignorance about the disease. They're much more deeply about distrust and about fear. There's been suspicion and distrust of authority in general in Liberia for years and years and years and years. This is a country that went through a really brutal, nasty war period in very recent memory and that affects how people feel day-to-day about the way society is organized and run, regardless of who's running it. This is a disease that has never appeared in this country before. It is brand new and it is quite a killer. It shows up, you might not even know that you have it and then two days later you're dead. So it's a terrifying thing to experience and of course when you're responding to something terrifying and unknown, there's a lot of doubt and suspicion and fear. Werman: Jina Moore is the Blobal Women's Rights reporter for BuzzFeed. She's on assignment in Monrovia. Thank you very much for your time, Jina. Moore: Thank you.