Ebola is destabilizing Liberia

Mass quarantine, it seems to me, is a highly problematic tool for halting the spread of a deadly epidemic like Ebola. In theory it makes a certain amount of success, but in practice it sure looks like you’re isolating whole groups of people and essentially abandoning them to the disease. Couple that with the fact that quarantines are likely to be imposed on poor and already disaffected neighborhoods, and that they pretty much have to be coupled with harsh police and military repression (or the threat of it, anyway), and you’ve got a potent recipe for unrest, which then undermines the quarantine’s ability to curtail the epidemic. Liberia is experiencing this right now:

Police in the Liberian capital fired live rounds and tear gas on Wednesday to disperse a stone-throwing crowd trying to break an Ebola quarantine imposed on their neighbourhood, as the death toll from the epidemic in West Africa hit 1,350.

In the sprawling oceanfront West Point neighbourhood of Monrovia, at least four people were injured in clashes with security forces, witnesses said. It was unclear whether anyone was wounded by the gunfire, though a Reuters photographer saw a young boy with his leg largely severed just above the ankle.

Liberian authorities introduced a nationwide curfew on Tuesday and put the West Point neighbourhood under quarantine to curb the spread of the disease.

Liberia is running out of basic supplies like rubber boots and hand sanitizer, and the people in quarantined West Point were actually starting to run out of food, which also helped cause the unrest. The Liberian government was planning to put a holding center for suspected Ebola patients in West Point, further adding to the unhappiness, but that’s apparently been scrapped.

Buried at the end of that Independent piece is this worrisome nugget:

Meanwhile, Democratic Republic of Congo has sent its health minister and a team of experts to the remote Equateur province after several people died there from a disease with Ebola-like symptoms, a local official and a professor said.

DRC is far enough away from West Africa that, assuming this is Ebola, it could be a completely separate outbreak. But still, sheesh.

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