JENE-WONDE, Liberia – A schoolteacher brought his sick daughter from Liberia’s capital to this small town of 300 people. Soon he was dead along with his entire family, and they are now buried in the forest nearby along with an increasing number of residents.
The community of Jene-Wonde in Grand Cape Mount County near the border with Sierra Leone has become a new epicenter for the deadly Ebola outbreak in Liberia, which is also hitting Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Momo Sheriff, who lost his son to Ebola, said there is no health care in the community and leaders have no way to manage it. The tiny town already has lost 10 per cent of its population to Ebola since late September. Amid all the deaths, markets and farms nearby have been abandoned.
“If the government does not take action, everybody will die in this town,” he said. “We are burying two dead bodies today. We don’t know who it will be tomorrow. Every day we have to cry,” he told an Associated Press journalist.
Liberia has suffered the greatest death toll in the Ebola epidemic, with 2,766 deaths blamed on the virus that had never been seen in West Africa before this year’s crisis. After months of aggressive efforts to isolate the sick and safely bury the dead, the World Health Organization says Ebola appears to be declining in Liberia “although new case numbers remain high in parts of the country.”
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The number of reported cases appears to be even dropping in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. But that is little solace for the people of Jene-Wonde.
Juma Mansaray lost her mother and grandmother on the same day here. She said the community has been ostracized from neighbouring ones.
“Everywhere we go the people will drive us away,” she said. “We are like outcasts; we can’t even go to the local market to buy pepper or food because people think we are cursed. We don’t know what to do. Most of our relatives in other areas don’t want to see us … we are stuck here.”
Abdullai Kamara, the leader of Burial Team A of Grand Cape Mount County Ebola, said the people of Jene-Wonde have been stubborn and in constant denial, which he cites as the reason the disease is still spreading.
Ebola is contracted through direct contact with the bodily fluids of the sick and the dead. For weeks, residents of Jene-Wonde have been chasing away safe burial teams and also have hidden the sick from outside health workers, he said.
“Our people played deaf ear to what was happening,” Kamara said. “They denied the truth.”
But Kamara said his team needs to take care of its own because “above all, we are still Liberians and we are Cape Mountainians. They are our people. We need people to come to their aid.”
James Jallah Paul says people in the town are terrified to help those who are sick. On this recent day, a man in a protective suit sprayed a house with a virus-killing solution where a woman died from Ebola. Health workers carried a body into the forest for burial. Paul said more help is needed.
“We are begging the government to come to our rescue,” he said. “If the government does not come to our rescue, we will finish (die) here; this place will be an empty space.”
Elsewhere, Ebola continues to rise in Sierra Leone, including its capital, Freetown. There were 40 new Ebola cases in and around Freetown in the previous 24 hours, authorities there said on Monday.