Liberia: Ebola spread fears rise as clinic looted

Health workers wearing protective gear go to remove the body of a person who is believed to have died after contracting the Ebola virus in the city of Monrovia, Liberia, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014. New figures released by the World Health Organization showed that Liberia has recorded more Ebola deaths — 413 — than any of the other affected countries. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)
Health workers wearing protective gear go to remove the body of a person who is believed to have died after contracting the Ebola virus in the city of Monrovia, Liberia, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014. New figures released by the World Health Organization showed that Liberia has recorded more Ebola deaths — 413 — than any of the other affected countries. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Liberian officials fear Ebola could soon spread through the capital’s largest slum after residents raided a quarantine center for suspected patients and took items including blood-stained sheets and mattresses.

The violence in the West Point slum occurred late Saturday and was led by residents angry that patients were brought from other parts of the capital to the holding center, Tolbert Nyenswah, assistant health minister, said Sunday. It was not immediately clear how many patients had been at the center.

West Point residents went on a “looting spree,” stealing items from the clinic that were likely infected, said a senior police official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the press. The residents took mattresses, sheets and blankets that had bloodstains, which could spread the infection.

Liberian police restored order to the West Point neighborhood, which is home to an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 poor Liberians. Health officials say they fear the looting incident will spread Ebola infections in the capital, Monrovia.

Ebola has killed 1,145 people in West Africa, including 413 in Liberia, according to the World Health Organization.

In East Africa, the Kenyan government took steps to prevent the disease from spreading. Kenya will bar passengers traveling from three West African countries hit by the Ebola outbreak, closing a debate in East Africa’s economic powerhouse about whether the national airline was exposing the country to the deadly disease.

The suspension is effective midnight Tuesday for all ports of entry for people traveling from or through Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, said Kenya’s Health Ministry. Nigeria was not included in the ban, which also allows entry to health professionals and Kenyans returning from those countries.

“This step is in line with the recognition of the extraordinary measures urgently required to contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa,” the Health Ministry said. It cited the World Health Organization’s recent statement that the magnitude of the Ebola outbreak has been underestimated.

Following the government’s announcement Saturday, Kenya Airways said it would suspend flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Kenya Airways, a major transport provider in Africa, had wrestled with the decision whether to continue flying to West Africa during the Ebola outbreak. Its suspension of flights is an abrupt reversal of its announcement Friday that it would continue flying.

Social commentators, medical experts and Kenyan politicians said they feared the airline was putting profits ahead of prudence, and that KQ, as the airline is known, would spread Ebola. The airline flies more than 70 flights a week to West Africa, but chief executive Titus Naikuni told a news conference Thursday that airline’s flight decisions had nothing to do with money.

The airline said flights actually help to contain the Ebola outbreak by transporting medical staff, supplies and equipment to West Africa.

But doctors representing the Kenya Medical Association had asked Kenya Airways to suspend flights to the four countries affected by Ebola “until things stabilize.” Members of parliament also called on the carrier to halt its West African operations.

Several airlines have already suspended flights to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, including British Airways, Emirates Airlines, Arik Air and ASKY Airlines. Nigeria became the fourth Ebola-affected country late last month after a Liberian-American man sick with the disease flew to Lagos on an ASKY flight and infected several people before he died.

Officials in Cameroon, which borders Nigeria, announced Friday it would suspend all flights from all four Ebola-affected countries. Korean Air announced on Thursday it would temporarily halt its service to Kenya despite the fact there are no cases of Ebola in the country.

Ebola-affected countries are suffering economically as international airlines restrict flights, companies scale down regional operations and much commercial trade is put on hold, said the World Bank. The bank, with the International Monetary Fund, reduced this year’s economic growth estimate for Guinea to 3.5 percent, down from their original projection of 4.5 percent growth.

 

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