(GIN)–An Ebola isolation center was overrun by Liberians in the capital city Monrovia over the weekend, as fear and confusion lead some to accuse western countries of inventing a killer disease and then placing a clinic for infected people in the midst of a slum.
The holding facility in the densely-populated West Point slum was targeted by an angry group of citizens who, according to some reports, carried off some of the sick and stripped the clinic of almost all of its supplies.
There are an estimated 50,000 people in the West Point neighborhood. Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah said protesters were unhappy that patients were being brought in from other parts of the capital.
Nyenswah said after the attack that 29 patients at the center were being relocated to an Ebola treatment center at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center. But, reporters at the scene contradicted him, saying that 17 escaped and 10 others were taken away by their families–raising the prospect of a widening circle of infection.
The attackers, mostly young men armed with clubs, chanted “No Ebola in West Point,” according to one eyewitness, adding that nurses had also fled the centre.
Jina Moore, a reporter and witness, said she saw the crowd storm the front gate and push into the holding center.
“They stole the few gloves someone had donated this morning, and the chlorine sprayers used to disinfect the bodies of those who die here, all the while hollering that Ebola is a hoax. They ransacked the protective suits, the goggles, the masks.”
Jemimah Kargbo, a healthcare worker at a clinic next door, said she saw mattresses and bedding, utensils and plastic chairs going out the door.
“What are they carrying to their homes? They are carrying their deaths,” said Kargbo.
She said the police showed up but failed to act.
“They said, ‘The president says you have Ebola, but you don’t have Ebola, you have malaria. Get up and go out!’” Kargbo told the reporter.
According to Kargbo, the staff at the clinic lack protective gear.
The riot means more infections as escaped sick patients infect their families, and as looters sleep on mattresses where the Ebola-infected have died.
“I have four sons. I am a single mother,” Kargbo said to Moore. “I’m not going to let anybody infect me to die of the disease and leave my children.”
Health official Nyenswah suggested a quarantine might be imposed on all of West Point, a serious measure that would require meticulous planning and heavy security.
On Friday, the death toll rose to 1,145. There have been 2,127 cases reported in total.