Residents living in the West Point district in Monrovia, Liberia, have set-off a revolt, that was put down by military officials, following a controversial government policy that seals-off where they live. It is a desperate Liberian government effort to stem the spread of the Ebola virus. The riots began when a commissioner was allowed to leave the district with her family, while the rest of them were not.
It is a controversial policy known as “cordon sanitaire”.
The West Point district has a population of roughly sixty thousand impoverished residents, and it is one where those who live there have felt marginalized by the government, long before the current outbreak of the Ebola virus. Many had moved from Liberia’s rural districts to West Point following years of civil war in search of employment. Now the district is a no-go area, and one targeted as a district rife with residents believed suffering from the deadly illness.
The "cordon sanitaire" or sanitary barrier, is a centuries-old method dating back to medieval times used to contain the European-wide ‘Black Death’ that killed millions. It is rarely used in modern times during the outbreak of infectious diseases. The sanitary barrier is one where no resident is allowed out, and was last used in Europe, in 1918, along the Polish-Russian border to stop the spread of Typhus.
Yet, health officials from Guinea, Sierre Leone, and Liberia, in a group called the "Mano River Union" agreed to do just that at an August 1st meeting in Conakry, Guinea. Districts in each country where the virus is considered ‘out-of-control’ were targeted, with the West Point district in Liberia considered a key area to contain.
Residents there did not want to be cordoned-off and left to die. Young men, mostly teenagers numbering in the hundreds, took matters into their own hands and revolted against the government tactic by throwing rocks, and other debris at police and military personnel, who tried to keep them quarantined.
An undetermined number of residents were struck by gunfire, according to several sources. While other residents were driven back with batons by both the police and military.
What set-off the rioting, and enraged the West Point residents, say eyewitnesses, was that Ms. Haja Miatta Flowers, a West Point government commissioner, was allowed to return to the cordoned-off district to bring out her children.
The West Point eruption is the latest twist in what some call a ‘dangerous new chapter’ in the story of a deadly illness that continues to spread.
Dr. Joanne Liu, the president of the international medical aid organization, Doctors Without Borders, said that what is compounding the Ebola issue in Liberia is that “all health facilities in Monrovia are basically closed.”
Roughly 1,350 people have died from the Ebola virus, with Liberia having the highest death toll among the three West African nations hit hardest. Liberia’s death toll so far is believed to be about 576.