MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Government officials handed out bags of rice and sachets of drinking water Thursday to residents of an impoverished slum in Liberia's capital where tens of thousands of people have been barricaded in an effort to stop the spread of Ebola.
International aid workers warned that more help was needed as the country battles not only the virulent disease but also hunger as travel restrictions have blocked food from getting to parts of the seaside capital.
In the tense township of West Point, hundreds of residents lined up to receive government provisions a day after authorities put up barbed wire barricades and enforced a blockade of the area that kept market traders from entering or leaving.
Prices were skyrocketing inside the community on a peninsula, with the price of water quadrupling in a matter of days in the slums where there is no clean running water amid steamy temperatures. "At the moment West Point is stuck at a standstill and is in an anarchy situation," said Moses Browne, who works for aid group Plan International in Liberia.
"We need food, we need water," he said, appealing for international support. "We're not fighting Ebola here, we are fighting hunger too." On Wednesday, residents of West Point clashed with police and soldiers hours after the neighborhood was sealed off, furious that they were being blamed and cut off from markets and jobs. The situation calmed down on Thursday, though fears remain about how much food and water will be brought into the half-mile-long (kilometer-long) peninsula.
By afternoon, hundreds of anxious residents lined up at the food distribution point to await their rations. The World Food Program said it would also begin distributing food in the area in the coming days.
Liberia is being hit especially hard by the dreaded virus that has killed 1,350 people in West Africa, accounting for 576 of the deaths. Several counties and districts in Sierra Leone and Liberia have been cordoned off, and there are concerns this is slowing the supply of food and other goods to these areas. The World Food Program is preparing to feed 1 million people affected by such travel restrictions.
In the United States, two aid workers who were infected in Liberia have recovered and were discharged from a hospital. Both Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol had received ZMapp, an experimental and unproven treatment for Ebola.
Three health workers are currently receiving the same treatment in Liberia — the first and so far only Africans to get the drug. They were showing "very positive signs of recovery," Liberia's information ministry said earlier this week.
A Spaniard who had contracted Ebola and also received the treatment died. The drug supply is now exhausted, the U.S. manufacturer has said. Ebola is transmitted by direct contact with the bodily fluids of someone who is sick and showing symptoms. To stop its spread, experts say, the sick should be isolated and not have any contact with the healthy. Overcrowded treatment centers, reluctance on the part of sick people to seek medical care, and burial practices that involve touching the dead have helped fuel the disease's spread.
A number of airlines have suspended flights to the affected countries, despite the World Health Organization's advice that Ebola is unlikely to spread through air travel. Guinea's president, Alpha Conde, met airline representatives and foreign diplomats on Wednesday to reassure them that Guinea is screening passengers leaving the country for fever and other symptoms, in line with WHO recommendations.
Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal. Associated Press writers Wade Williams in Monrovia, Liberia; and Boubacar Diallo in Conakry, Guinea, contributed to this report.