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Ebola Prevention Supplies Running Short In Liberia


The World Health Organization has warned that the Ebola virus could infect 20,000 people within the next nine months. On Friday, Senegal announced its first infection, making it the fifth African country to suffer an outbreak. One of the hardest hit is Liberia, where the CDC says almost 700 deaths are suspected due to the virus. Drew Hinshaw is a contributing reporter for The Wall Street Journal in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. I asked him what has been the Liberian government's response to the outbreak.

DREW HINSHAW: When Ebola first came to Monrovia, which is this densely packed city of a million or so people, the government's response was to panic essentially. They quarantined off the most crowded neighborhood in the city, which had recorded a few cases. This week, I think the government recognized that you can't defeat a plague by just blocking it off from the world. And they lifted those quarantines.

They are now very belatedly trying to find out who has Ebola. Who are they in contact with? Which people might have the bola?

WERTHEIMER: Liberia was devastated by a Civil War that ended in 2003. And I understand it has not really rebuilt its infrastructure since then. Does that cripple its ability to deal with this outbreak?

HINSHAW: Absolutely. The hospitals and clinics are extremely understaffed and under supplied. Liberia had, before Ebola, the world's second lowest rate of doctors to people. I was at a hospital a couple of days ago, and it's been converted into an Ebola testing zone. So only people who are either doctors or potential Ebola patients should be there. But a man had been in a motorcycle accident and was bleeding to death. And they had no choice but to bring him in to an Ebola zone and wrap up his broken leg using fabric that women wear as skirts here to treat a bone breakage.

WERTHEIMER: The World Health Organization has said that getting health experts to the regions affected by Ebola should be an urgent priority. Is anything like that happening in Liberia from what you've seen?

HINSHAW: There has been more aid over the past few weeks than there has been in the few months before that. It's still not enough. Everything is basically on the shoulders of Medecins Sans Frontieres right now, Doctors Without Borders because they're the only people who have the experience in dealing with an Ebola outbreak. No one has ever dealt with an Ebola outbreak on this level. But what you have is a virus that is spreading way faster than supplies and aid can catch up. And that creates a backlog that causes Ebola to spread even faster.

WERTHEIMER: How are people there coping with this? There must be so many people who are ill, so many people who have died.

HINSHAW: Right. You know, a disease like malaria or cholera, they sort of kill more at random. But you're dealing with a disease here that explicitly kills the people who are kind enough to help each other out. I was at a funeral today for a church woman who died probably because she went around, house to house, praying with Ebola patients. Her brother was there breaking into tears. And everyone, myself included, wanted to go and put our hands on the back of this man in his 50s who is just crying his eyes out. But we can't because we know that he's been extremely exposed to Ebola. And we're all just standing there. And finally, a man walked up and put his hand on the guy's back just because it's really hard to find that human instinct to go over and try to make them feel better.

WERTHEIMER: Drew Hinshaw is reporting in Monrovia, Liberia. Thank you very much for talking to us.

HINSHAW: Thank you, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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