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Ebola tensions ease in quarantined Liberia, but government mistrust lingers

August 24, 2014 at 6:33 PM EDT
There are now more than 2,600 confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola, and more than 1,400 deaths resulting from the virus. All of the cases have originated in West Africa. For the latest on the global health crisis, Drew Hinshaw of the Wall Street Journal joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Ghana.

HARI SREENIVASAN: As we reported yesterday there are now more than 2600 confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola and more than 1400 deaths resulting from the virus.

All of the cases had originated from West Africa. For the latest on the health crisis we are joined via Skype from Accra, Ghana by Drew Hinshaw of The Wall Street Journal. So earlier this week we saw some disturbing images out of Liberia, a neighborhood there, West Point, had been quarantined and people were starting to fight back against the police. Have tensions eased?

DREW HINSHAW: Right, tensions right now are a little bit easier than they were a few days ago but the fundamental problem in Liberia, which is really one of government mistrust is still there. This is a country that fought a 14 year civil war, one of the most horrific in modern memory.

There’s a real gulf between the governed and the government. The fundamental problem which is that people think that Ebola is a conspiracy or a government started rumor is still there and right while there’s not a clash right now, there’s a high probability that there will be more in days to come especially as people get hungry in that quarantined neighborhood.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Right, I mean this is a neighborhood of 75,000 people and fear spreads a lot easier than the virus does.

DREW HINSHAW: This is a really easy disease to contain. What happens is people panic and when people panic they start believing people they’ve trusted all their lives, their priest, their traditional healers, their community leaders and a bureaucrat from the Liberian Health Industry doesn’t have as much sway when the virus pops up their neighborhood.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Do the governments there have a plan for it established yet ? Are they calling for outside assistance?

DREW HINSHAW: They’re the first ones to tell you that they’re making this up as they go along. I think what happened was in April, there was a dip, and everyone thought oh ok this virus is burnt out and then it just came out of nowhere and just swamped these governments in June, July.

What you’re supposed to do is trace person to person. You’re supposed to say if I have it, who have I touched while contagious, you monitor them, if they catch it you find out who they’ve touched while contagious and you isolate it like that. We’re way past that point where Liberia and Sierra Leone can easily do that. They’re having to pull out this last ditch thing.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You’ve been going in and out of Liberia I mean the health care workers, their story seems even more compelling. You’ve got nurses who haven’t been paid, they’ve been walking off the job, doctors in Nigeria for example who are trying to strike out of some fear and out of concern for themselves. So in populations in Sierra Leone or Liberia who’s there to care for these patients?

DREW HINSHAW: Exactly, I mean you brought up a good example. Doctors were on strike in Nigeria before Ebola got there.

They were already on strike over a different issue and in Liberia and Sierra Leone doctors were both not fantastically trained and they didn’t have a lot of equipment like rubber gloves. So the healthcare system was gutted beforehand and now it’s completely collapsed. Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) are really pulling a lot of weight here and they’re the first to say that they can’t do this by themselves.

What they were wondering is where other aid groups are. When you look at other calamities like the Haitian earthquake or things like that you get so many aid groups sometimes that there’s a jam at the airport. When you land at the Monrovia airport in Liberia you don’t get that since. You get a sense that this is acountry that’s been abandoned by the same aid groups who had had long standing relationships with LIberia.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, Drew Hinshaw of The Wall Street Journal joining us via Skype from Accra, Ghanna, thanks so much.

DREW HINSHAW: Thank you too.