Weathering the Ebola epidemic in Liberia

A picture taken on August 25, 2014 in Monrovia shows nurses wearing a protective suit searching for a man infected with the Ebola virus to escort him to a hospital in Monrovia. The United Nations vowed on August 23 to play a 'strong role' in helping Liberia and its neighbors fight a deadly outbreak of Ebola in west Africa, which it said could take months to bring it under control. Liberia has been particularly hard hit by the epidemic that has swept relentlessly across the region since March, accounting for almost half of the 1,427 deaths. 

BBC correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh has been living in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, for the last 20 years. He has been reporting on the Ebola epidemic from one of the hardest-hit areas: a slum called West Point, home to between 50,000 and 100,000 people. It's currently under quarantine, while the rest of Monrovia is under a strict curfew.

"Following the imposition of this restriction, people are stuck there," he said. "Even those who had just gone there to spend time with relatives are all stopped from leaving."

As if the fear of Ebola wasn't enough, Paye-Layleh says, this year's rainy season in Liberia has caused cholera infections and outbreaks of other diseases, and many people won't go to the hospital to get treated out of fear that they might be mistakenly diagnosed with Ebola.

"Anybody developing high fever should be presumed Ebola-positive until the contrary is proven, as opposed to saying 'if you have a fever, come to the hospital, maybe it is not Ebola,'" he said. "As a result of thatand knowing that eventually if they are tested positive for Ebola they will be taken into isolation... separated from their familiesmany people who are suffering from other illnesses just remain home to die."

Although commerce continues in Liberia for pure essentials like food, Paye-Layleh says the epidemic has taken a toll on Liberians' social lives as well. His job as a journalist, he says, has been made difficult because person-to-person contact is diminishing as a result of the outbreak.

"Our tradition of meeting people, greeting people has now been starved because of Ebola. We are not skeptical to get around friends, to get around other relatives, because you don't know who has come in contact with whom. It's going to make things a bit difficult."

Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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