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Angry, scared and hungry: Inside the Ebola 'quaratine zone'

Angry, scared and hungry: Inside the Ebola 'quaratine zone'
CDC
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Tuesday, August 26, 2014 - 7:45am

A red rope guarded by police marks the "quarantine line" around the West Point slum in the Liberian capital, Monrovia.

Beyond it, more than 70,000 people are trapped -- angry, scared and increasingly hungry -- as the authorities seek to halt the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

As soon as a CNN team crossed the line, it was swarmed by people desperate to be heard.

Since the government designated the slum an Ebola quarantine zone last week, there has been no way out. Stuck without sanitation or running water and with food supplies for many running low, people fear for their lives.

The quarantine measures were imposed after rioters looted an Ebola treatment center in the slum, claiming the virus was a government hoax.

A nurse at the center told CNN she arrived for her shift that night to find the center destroyed and not a patient to be found.

The center is being slowly rebuilt but it lacks basic equipment and facilities. Medical workers have to wash their protective gear for reuse and have little more than a squirt of bleach to rely on.

'I'm scared of everything'

It is the only refuge for the slum's frightened residents. But the most that they can hope for is to be made comfortable while they wait either to overcome the virus, or not.

Like many residents of West Point, Charming, a hairdresser, has to travel out of the township to make a living. She is the only breadwinner for her two children and her elderly parents

"Right now my mother doesn't have anything," she told CNN. "First, I was the one that provided for her. But as time goes by, she's complaining the rice is finished. I just came from my parents' house and she has nothing."

Asked if she is more scared by the disease or by hunger, Charming replied: "Both. That's what's worrying us. The hunger, the Ebola everything. I'm scared of everything."

Her fears are far from unfounded. Experts have described the West African outbreak, centered in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, as the worst in the history of the virus.

Doctors, nurses succumb

The World Health Organization said Monday that 120 healthcare workers had died in the Ebola outbreak, and twice that number had been infected.

The fact that the disease has killed so many people working to care for infected patients is making it increasingly hard to combat it in West Africa, the group said.

"It depletes one of the most vital assets during the control of any outbreak. WHO estimates that, in the three hardest-hit countries, only one to two doctors are available to treat 100,000 people, and these doctors are heavily concentrated in urban areas."

The threat can mean other health facilities close, as staff choose to stay home rather than risk their lives. This means other medical needs, such as childbirth and malaria treatment, are neglected.

"The fact that so many medical staff have developed the disease increases the level of anxiety: if doctors and nurses are getting infected, what chance does the general public have?" said the WHO.

"In some areas, hospitals are regarded as incubators of infection and are shunned by patients with any kind of ailment, again reducing access to general health care."

The heavy toll is also making it harder to secure support from sufficient numbers of foreign medical staff, the body said.

There are a number of reasons for the high proportion of infected doctors and nurses, the WHO said.

"These factors include shortages of personal protective equipment or its improper use, far too few medical staff for such a large outbreak, and the compassion that causes medical staff to work in isolation wards far beyond the number of hours recommended as safe."

Blood, bodily fluids

Ebola is one of the world's most virulent diseases and is transmitted through direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids of infected people.

The outbreak has forced various nations to take drastic action, including Ivory Coast, which said it is closing borders it shares with Guinea and Liberia for an indefinite period.

Senegal also closed its borders over Ebola fears. The closure includes any aircraft and ships traveling to Senegal from Guinea, Sierra Leone or Liberia.

Amid fears of the disease's spread, the Philippines recalled 115 peacekeepers from Liberia.

Dr. Peter Paul Galvez, a spokesman for the Philippines' Department of National Defense, said they would be repatriated as soon as possible. They will be quarantined before departure for 21 days, then quarantined again in the Philippines for a further 21 days.

Early symptoms of Ebola include sudden onset of fever, weakness, muscle pain, headaches and a sore throat. These symptoms can appear two to 21 days after infection.

CNN's Kathy Quiano contributed to this report. 

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