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EbolaLiberia quarantines area the size of Wales in an effort to contain Ebola spread
In an effort to control the spread of Ebola throughout West Africa, Liberia has quarantined areas at the epicenter of the epidemic. Experts say the quarantine is not likely to be effective because of two reasons: people inside and outside the quarantined areas – called “Unified Sectors” – still lack effective medical services, and the growing shortages of food and clean water inside the Unified Sectors will force people from inside those areas to go outside in search of food. The areas – which, combined, are the size of Wales — are too large to be effectively monitored.
In an effort to control the spread of Ebola throughout West Africa, Liberia has quarantined villages at the epicenter of the epidemic. People in and around the quarantined areas, however, are still at risk either from lack of medical attention, or from limited access to food and clean water. “There has to be concern that people in quarantined areas are left to fend for themselves,” said Mike Noyes, head of humanitarian response at ActionAid UK. “Who is going to be the police officer who goes to these places? There’s a risk that these places become plague villages.”
The Ebola virus was never previously detected in West Africa, so already weak health care systems in Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea were ill-prepared to deal with the outbreak. The Liberian government has imposed emergency measures and created border checkpoints to restrict residents from entering quarantine areas in order to limit those with Ebola symptoms from spreading the virus to unaffected areas. Fox News reports that Guinea and Sierra Leone, both bordering Liberia, have placed checkpoints in Gueckedou and Kenema to establish a cross-border quarantine zone of roughly 20,000 square kilometers, about the size of Wales, called the “unified sector.”
“Access to these hotspots is now cut off except for medical workers,” Liberia’s information minister Lewis Brown, said this week.
Medical workers, when allowed to enter quarantine areas, help train residents to create isolation units in schools and churches in their towns. “Quarantines expose healthy people to risk – which is why the effectiveness of states is so important in supporting preventive measures that will minimize this,” said Robert Dingwall, specialist in health policy responses to infectious diseases at Nottingham Trent University. Yet even when quarantined residents remain within marked zones, limited access to food will force them into the Jungle or enter neighboring towns, thereby spreading the Ebola virus. Brown also acknowledged the risk, saying “we can establish as many checkpoints as we want but if we cannot get the food and the medical supplies in to affected communities, they will leave.”
Residents in unaffected counties have welcomed the emergency measures put in place in Liberia, but they also risk limited food supplies because some quarantined counties supply Liberia’s sweet potatoes and palm fruits. The World Food Program plans to supply more than one million people living in the “unified sector” with food, but no plans have been set for residents outside quarantined zones.
“My worry is how the southeast will get food. You could have trade with Ivory Coast but they might not want to for fear of the virus,” said Adolphus Scott, a worker for UNICEF. Yacouba Sylla, a motorbike taxi driver in Ivory Coast, confirmed a slump in his business since border checkpoints were installed, while noting that “Ebola hasn’t arrived here, but it is going to kill us anyway before it gets here, as we will die of hunger.”