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Hunger spreads in West Africa

Ebola spreads in Liberia

Disease threat: Residents of the West Point neighbourhood of Monrovia, Liberia, wait for food rations to be handed out as part of the government’s quarantine plan for the area to fight the spread of the Ebola virus. Church workers say hunger and panic are major problems in Liberia and Sierra Leone as neighbourhoods are sealed off or quarantined. Photo: CNS/Ahmed Jallanzo, EPA

HUNGER and panic are spreading among people unable to work because of restrictions aimed at containing the spread of Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone, say Church workers in West Africa.

In Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, Church groups “are trying to get food and distribute it to families who have asked us to help, but movement is heavily restricted and there is little we can do”, Salesian Father Jorge Crisafulli, provincial superior in West Africa, said in a interview from Accra, Ghana.

Neighbourhoods in Monrovia have been sealed off under terms of the government-imposed state of emergency.

The World Health Organisation has estimated that more than 2600 people in West Africa have been infected with Ebola since March.

More than 1400 people have died from the virus.

Food prices in Liberia were “rising steeply and people are hungry”, Fr Crisafulli said, noting that “markets in the city that are usually bustling are now empty and no trading is happening”. 

People were unable to get to work and, “while they still have to buy food, they have no money because they can’t work”, he said.

“There is great fear of spread of disease where there are large groups of people,” he said.

Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are the countries mainly affected by the Ebola outbreak.

“Particularly in Liberia, Ebola has become an economic and social problem as well as a health problem,” Fr Crisafulli said, noting, “panic and fear are now greater problems than the disease itself”.

“Feelings of isolation are brought on by international fear of ‘Ebola countries’ and banning of flights,” he said, adding “people feel like lepers of earlier centuries”. 

Hunger was also a major problem in Sierra Leone, executive director of Caritas for Freetown archdiocese Fr Peter Konteh said, citing as an example a complex near his own home that had been quarantined. 

Security guards were placed at the gate of the Freetown complex that was home to 54 people after the August 6 death of an Ebola-infected doctor who lived there, he said.

While the guards ensured no one entered or left, there were stories that some had been bribed by residents “who said they were desperate to get out to buy food”, he said.

Places affected by Ebola were quarantined for 21 days, he said. 

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