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Photographer documents effects of Ebola on daily life in Liberia

August 18, 2014 at 6:23 PM EDT
John Moore, a photographer with Getty Images, has been documenting the outbreak in Monrovia, Liberia. He witnessed a weekend attack on a quarantine center. He talks to Jeffrey Brown about what he observed, as well as how the disease is affecting Liberians and how he is protecting himself during his work.
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TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: I spoke to John Moore, a photographer with Getty Images, a short time ago. He witnessed the attack on the quarantine center and has been documenting the outbreak in Monrovia.

John Moore, thanks for joining us.

First, tell us more about the event. Who was involved and why did they seem to be doing it?

JOHN MOORE, Getty Images: Well, it was an angry crowd who had just driven away a burial team who had come to claim several bodies that were suspected of — people suspected of dying of Ebola.

And the crowd drove away the burial teams and the police and then marched on the isolation ward, the holding center for Ebola patients. They pushed through the doors and told people that they really didn’t have Ebola after all, that they were sick of other causes, and that it was safe to come out.

There’s a lot of people who deny the existence of Ebola here. They think that it’s a scheme, a hoax, a plot by the government to bring in international money. And they pulled these people out of the ward. And then I left the scene because it was getting difficult.

And afterwards this crowd looted the facility, taking soiled mattresses and contaminated medical equipment, and I assume spreading the disease much more in their community.

JEFFREY BROWN: These are patients under observation, not known to have Ebola yet. What about the center itself?  What are the conditions?  How well or poorly supplied is it?

JOHN MOORE: The conditions were poor and the place was very poorly supplied.

It was run by the Liberian Ministry of Health. It was a small center. It was actually a primary school that had been closed because of the epidemic, a school built by USAID funds. And they had no medicine there.

Now, we know Ebola is not curable. However, you can treat the symptoms. And they had no aspirin to reduce the fever of these patients. All they gave them was food and water, and so the conditions were quite bad.

JEFFREY BROWN: You’re describing one violent incident. Can you tell how widespread the anger and fear are in Monrovia now?  Is it a general sense, or is the government actually reaching most people with a call for calm?

JOHN MOORE: The government is trying.

And the international community — I was just with UNICEF today as they were canvassing another area of town, trying to explain to people how to prevent the disease. I wouldn’t say there’s general panic. I would expect there to be more, quite frankly. People are concerned, but they’re concerned about lots of things. There’s lots of reasons that people get sick in this country.

JEFFREY BROWN: You have also been documenting burials and other parts of cultural life affected by what is happening.

Give us an example of how everyday life is affected and in some cases makes it harder, perhaps, to address the disease.

JOHN MOORE: Well, everyday life is affected, in that the schools and the hospitals and clinics are mostly all closed.

And if you are sick from some other disease, or if you are having a baby, or if you are doing the things we do as humans, you sometimes need medical attention. And without these facilities open, people are sick and dying of things that they shouldn’t be sick and dying of.

And so the disease is affecting the health system in other ways, the health system that has really collapsed.

JEFFREY BROWN: And looking at the photographs you’re able to take, and how close to the situation you are, what precautions do you yourself take?

JOHN MOORE: I came to Liberia with a full set of what they call PPE, which is personal protective equipment, which is anti-contamination clothing. And I came with many sets of coveralls, gloves, goggles, boot covers, all sorts of things, wipes, and lots of sanitizer, things to keep me healthy.

And all these things are one-time use. They get disposed of after I go into an infected area. And I dress with teams who are going in to collect bodies. And I undress all these items with them, so they are spraying me with disinfectant the whole time. I’m doing my best to stay safe.

JEFFREY BROWN: John Moore, do take care, and thank you again for joining us.

JOHN MOORE: Thank you.