Ebola: life and death on the frontline

An agent of the national public health institute controls the temperature of a man at the airport, in Abidjan on August 12, 2014, as part of protective measures against the Ebola virus.

Ebola has now claimed more than 1,000 lives and infected over a thousand more across West Africa. Clair MacDougall meets families, survivors, and workers at its centre. Additional reporting by Shahesta Shaitly

Outside a run-down elementary school in West Point, Liberia, health workers stand silent and stiff under a balcony as the night darkens. Their spare supply of white hazmat suits, latex gloves and chlorine has been stolen, along with food for 21 patients who were being quarantined inside. Just an hour earlier, locals had burst through the gates and looted the facility. Patients suspected of having Ebola were “liberated”; the mob took their bedding and mattresses out with them. Now the staff are waiting for the police to escort them to safety. They eventually depart, unharmed, but they’re forced to leave a patient’s dead body behind.

The school was supposed to be a holding centre so that those infected by the virus could be quarantined in the community before they came into contact with others. The main treatment centre was so choked that one healthcare worker said he feared people coming in without the virus might end up infected. But the initiative collapsed after just 48 hours. At least three people died inside – they did not receive medical treatment during their final hours.

West Point, Monrovia’s largest seaside slum, serves as a microcosm for the fear and confusion that is gripping the wider community. The Ebola epidemic has claimed 1,145 lives and infected more than 2,000 across three countries – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – in just five months.

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