(NaturalNews) As the Ebola virus spreads throughout West Africa, governments there are becoming more and more authoritarian in how they are dealing with it -- actions that are born of fear as much as pragmatism.
For instance, in Liberia in recent days, soldiers and police officers donning riot gear have blocked roads, cordoned off areas and have even intercepted citizens who set out on water, in canoes. Entire neighborhoods -- many sprawling slums with tens of thousands of people -- have been placed under isolation and quarantine, as the Liberian government continues to struggle with the virus's spread.
'This is messed up'
The New York Times reported on the results of the Liberian government's decisions:
The reaction was swift and violent. Angry young men hurled rocks and stormed barbed-wire barricades, trying to break out. Soldiers repelled the surging crowd with live rounds, driving back hundreds of young men.
One teenager in the crowd, Shakie Kamara, 15, lay on the ground near the barricade, his right leg apparently wounded by a bullet from the melee. "Help me," he pleaded, barefoot and wearing a green Philadelphia Eagles T-shirt.
"This is messed up," said Lt. Col. Abraham Kromah, the head of operations for the national police, who was looking at the teenager and complaining about the crowd. "They injured one of my police officers. That's not cool. It's a group of criminals that did this. Look at this child. God in heaven help us."
The fights were part of a dangerous new chapter in the region's battle against the five-month-old outbreak of Ebola, the deadliest on record. And the virus is continuing to spread, despite government efforts; the total number of cases reported in the nations affected -- Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria -- is already higher than all other combined Ebola outbreaks since 1976, the Times reported, the year the disease was first identified.
Thus far, the outbreak has been confined largely to rural areas. However, the disease has also traveled to major cities such as the Guinean capital of Conakry and the Liberian capital of Monrovia.
"Fighting Ebola in an urban area -- particularly in a neighborhood like this one, known as West Point, an extremely poor and often violent place that still bears deep scars from Liberia's 14 years of civil war -- presents challenges that the government and international aid organizations have only started grappling with," the Times reported.
Many fear that Ebola risks further spread, and quickly. They note the difficulty in containing the spread, which healthcare professionals say is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to do in heavily populated urban centers -- especially when there is also a dearth of medical care and residents appear increasingly distrustful of the government's handling of the crisis.
'They didn't know how to respond to it'
As of this writing, at least 1,350 people have died in the current outbreak, the first of its kind in West Africa. The death rate is rising the fastest in Liberia, the country which also has the highest death toll of at least 576.
"Being the first time to get this problem, they didn't know what they were dealing with," Dr. David Kaggwa, a Ugandan physician with the World Health Organization, said of the Liberian government. "They didn't know how to respond to it. By the time they realized, it was way out of control."
Dr. Kaggwa, speaking to the Times in a cholera ward at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center, which he helped turn into an Ebola ward, said that his own country's lengthy history with the disease was limited to rural outbreaks.
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working intensively with partners to help stop the outbreak at its source in Africa," several of the agency's physicians wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine. "We are also assisting the four affected countries to improve their exit-screening protocols to help protect the rest of the world, including the United States."