Disease Without Borders: On the Front Lines of the Fight Against Ebola

Liberia is woefully unprepared to deal with the logistics necessary to stop the spread of the disease.

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Nov 5 2014, 2:00pm

A recently painted mural in central Monrovia, Liberia. To encourage a population that has been skeptical of Ebola's existence to remain vigilant, the city has launched a full-scale awareness campaign. Photos by Tim Freccia. 

For more, watch the documentary ​The Fight Against Ebola, now playing on VICE News.

Paul Goi waited outside Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, in the passenger seat of his station wagon. His daughter, suffering from Ebola, had been vomiting and "toileting," as they call it here, for five days and now sat in the backseat. Hospital staffers wouldn't let her in for treatment because of a lack of space.

Across the street, other members of Goi's family were waiting in an ambulance. They had also been sick, and Goi said it took five days of phone calls for an ambulance to show up. Though they'd finally arrived at the hospital, none were allowed to enter. Paul shook his head, exasperated. "It's like we're sacrificing them," he said.

Liberia's capital city of Monrovia has been hit the hardest by the current Ebola outbreak that's plaguing West Africa. Still recovering from two civil wars fought between 1989 and 2003, and with government corruption endemic, the country is woefully unprepared to deal with the logistics necessary to stop the spread of the disease.

Ebola has an incubation period of two to 21 days, which means that symptoms can show up three weeks past the initial infection period. The symptoms are similar to those of the flu, malaria, and cholera, and that makes Ebola extremely hard to detect in some of the poverty-stricken neighborhoods where those other diseases are rampant.

Ebola spreads through bodily fluids, and Ebola victims infect an average of two people, as opposed to measles victims, who infect an average of 18. Though the pathogen itself isn't highly contagious, low levels of awareness, widespread skepticism of the prevalence of the disease, and inadequate medical infrastructure have allowed Ebola to run rampant through the city.

Back at Redemption, medical director Dr. Mohammed Sankoh pleaded with the international community for more help in containing the disease. Sankoh said that his staff lack the necessary equipment to stop the infected from dying, and due to inadequate training, many health-care workers have passed away after contracting the virus.

We asked Sankoh if it would be possible to enter some of the high-risk treatment units where Ebola patients were quarantined, and he issued a stern warning. At the end, he said something that stuck with us even as we returned home and quarantined ourselves for 21 days. "Just see what you can see, and go back home and meet your family there," the doctor said, his voice trailing off into a whisper.

VICE correspondent Danny Gold speaks with Redemption Hospital medical director Dr. Mohammed Sankoh. Having lost a number of staff members to the disease, Sankoh is adamant that Liberia is currently not equipped to handle the Ebola outbreak on its own.

A Red Cross body-retrieval team member pauses while waiting for the rest of his crew to sanitize themselves. The teams average ten pickups a day and take extreme precaution with every one, putting on new protective suits for each stop.

A hospital worker cleans up infected waste at the entrance of Redemption Hospital, in the New Kru Town suburb of Monrovia. An influx of Ebola patients has overwhelmed the staff and facilities.

A suspected Ebola victim is quarantined in the West Point courthouse as an emergency-response team sprays chlorine. The man had been arrested and was awaiting trial when he began vomiting in the courthouse. It took nearly two hours for an ambulance to arrive.

A suspected Ebola victim sits outside her home in West Point after a contact-tracing team visited. Contact tracing involves locating suspected Ebola victims and people they've been in contact with in an effort to quarantine them and stop the spread of the disease.

A member of a Red Cross body-retrieval team dons protective equipment before entering the premises to remove the corpses of Ebola victims. When an Ebola victim dies, the body is at its most contagious.

Two suspected Ebola victims sit in a courthouse awaiting transportation to a treatment center.

A staffer from Doctors Without Borders sprays chlorine on a worker leaving an isolation unit in Monrovia. Doctors Without Borders was one of the earliest voices calling on the international community to help fight Ebola.

Archie Gbessay, part of a contact-tracing team, gestures to a suspected Ebola victim in West Point.

Two Red Cross workers wait for a body they plan to remove from Monrovia's John F. Kennedy Medical Center.

A suspected Ebola victim sits outside his house in West Point. Local organizations have sent out teams to monitor potentially infected people and educate them about avoiding contact and staying in their homes.