A village of 23 households under quarantine in the Omega Tower Community in Paynesville have been suffering deprivation and Ebola stigma following the deaths of five persons and three confirmed cases of the stubborn virus.
The hunger-stricken Wheinzohn residents say they were suffering the pinch of isolation because of the high probability that they could become infected within 21 days, lamenting that in their circumstances they were left with no alternative but to appeal for help.
According to one family head, the 23 households are stigmatized by the rest of the village and are considered as the harbingers of witchcraft threatening the existence of the village.
Mr. Obadiah Mills declared, “Ebola is not just strange in terms of the sickness, but also in terms of changing people’s attitude toward each other. It changes people’s social attitudes and (compels them to withdraw their) support for each other, irrespective of long-term ties.”
Stigma is a major impact of the Virus. It disintegrates communities and contributes to severe depression in confirmed, suspected and probable Ebola patients. It is reported that a wife in the same Paynesville area is being stigmatized by her husband because she cared for her sister who died on her lap. Stigma is at its worst in rural communities such as Wheinzohn.
Some communities physically draw lines of demarcation between quarantined homes and the rest of the communities; indicating a no go zone.
As much as quarantine is a traditional public health routine for combating Ebola, it psychologically affects those isolated, a community worker said.
For a minimum of three weeks, the quarantined person or family is treated as though they are the cause of the virus, especially in countries like Liberia, experiencing the virus for the first time.
Alfalit brings relief
Upon hearing of the plight of the people of Wheinzohn, a rapid response team from Alfalit Liberia acted immediately. Initially, the Alfalit team took to the quarantined town two weeks ago 25 bags of rice, along with cartons of argo oil, disinfectants, 25 hand washing buckets and 300 sachets of safe drinking water.
The community profile of Alfalit Liberia enables it to relate and respond to grassroots needs. In Omega Tower Communities, covering Wheinzohn, there are three literacy centers established and run by Alfalit Liberia.
Through its literacy network, Alfalit has helped several quarantined homes and affected people during the Ebola crisis.
The relief items delivered by Alfalit were a timely response to the needs of the villagers, especially the 23 quarantined families who have had no freedom of movement for fear of spreading the virus to more people and communities.
Wheinzohn village was confirmed Ebola infested from a single incident that linked Benson Hospital as the probable source of infection.
A pregnant woman gave birth at Benson Hospital and returned to the village with her baby. Within days she came down with all the signs of the virus, but villagers were not convinced that her case could be that of Ebola.
The woman eventually died along with her young baby. Conventional traditions associated with caring for the dead were upheld. Family members bathed and dressed the body as a sign of last respect.
The virus left its dead hosts for the living. All the partakers in the burial rituals came down with the virus in a couple of days. Four have died and three others are in Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs).
Alfalit does not run a health program alongside its educational, literacy and skills training programs, but it has a unique way of intervening in the current Liberian health crisis.
The organization provides food, preventive and hygienic supplies to affected and infected communities like Wheinzohn.
Wheinzohn villagers claim that Alfalit, under the leadership of Rev. Emanuel J. Giddings, was the first non-profit organization to rush to the aid of the villagers in their state of desperation and confusion.
On the village’s behalf, the Liaison Officer, Allen Charleson expressed gratitude to Alfalit and its leadership for identifying with the village and showing compassion and love by reaching out to a confirmed infested Ebola village that many people feared to identify with.
During a visit to the village, several young men dressed in white jackets labeled “District # 10 Ebola Taskforce” told the Daily Observer that they were assigned to the village to perform two basic tasks: reporting new cases in the village and ensuring that the rules of quarantine are strictly followed.
As part of the quarantine regulations, two old ladies who found comfort in each other’s company in their last stage of life, have been placed in separate rooms to avoid infecting each other in case either of them has the virus.
Their makeshift lodging had been discarded when some members of their families tested positive of the virus and subsequently died.
The old folks had no alternative but to sleep on the ground at the expense of their depreciating health. The virus has killed their caregivers and left them in isolation until the twenty-one day period is over. “Go in the rooms and see”, was the only reaction to this reporter’s curiosity about their living condition.
Hardly would a visitor like an aid worker or journalist enter the rooms of the elderly women in the absence of protective gears.
But from 10 feet away, one can see the deplorable conditions to which these old folks are reduced during the quarantine.
Alfalit came to the rescue by providing mattresses for the two old ladies as they remain physically separated from each other until their quarantine is over.