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Liberia Becomes Epicenter Of West Africa Ebola Crisis


We'll report now on the spread of the Ebola virus as it looks from the country that is most affected right now. In recent weeks, Liberia has reported the largest number of cases. It is also a country from which the virus has spread. A traveler from Liberia carried the virus to Nigeria. NPR's Jason Beaubien is on a balcony overlooking Liberia's capital Monrovia. And Jason, what have you been seeing as you've moved about that city?

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Well, I've been seeing that Ebola is really dominating life here at the moment. When you look around, every shop has a small barrel out front with a little tap on the bottom of it where you can wash your hands as you go in and out. People are very concerned about Ebola. It's dominating the government and its dominating the press, it's dominating the people. There was a state of emergency declared last week. Schools are closed, nonessential employees have all been sent home. And, you know, I think as you can hear, it's still a busy, bustling West African capital city. But people are telling me it's less busy, less bustling than it was before Ebola started to hit here.

INSKEEP: Well, I guess I'm wondering if it is quiet enough to stop the spread of this virus and we'll remember that the main way to stop its spread is to simply avoid too much contact with those affected. Are they getting things under control?

BEAUBIEN: Probably the answer to that is no. When you look at the number of new cases, things just continue to go up and up here. Just on Sunday, which is the last day that I have figures for, there were 51 new admissions to a single isolation unit in Lofa county. That's really, you know, a staggering number. It does not feel at all like this is getting under control.

INSKEEP: The county you mentioned, is that the area that's most affected by this virus right now in Liberia?

BEAUBIEN: That's right, that's the most affected County. It's the one that goes right up against Sierra Leone and Guinea where the outbreak initially started and had spread into Liberia from there. So that is the most affected county, in the northwest corner of Liberia.

INSKEEP: Does this disease - as far as you can tell - the idea of this disease really get to people, get into their heads, affect their daily thoughts and actions?

BEAUBIEN: It does. People are really terrified of it. And there's also been, you know, a lot of rumors, a lot of misinformation. There's been accusations that people were poisoning wells and that people were actually dying from that instead of from Ebola. All over the press there have been just these horrific photos - some of them don't even appear to be of Ebola patients. It really is a terrifying disease in part because you can't see it and people don't know exactly how it spreads. And until that information is disseminated throughout the population - that you really have to be in contact with someone who's sick in order to get it - people are just terrified.

INSKEEP: Well, I'm interested Jason because I know you have covered other disasters that are far more visible - like the earthquake in Haiti a few years ago. What's it like to cover this disaster that is in large measure invisible?

BEAUBIEN: You know, it's really difficult. It's difficult to cover it in that, you know, you walk in somewhere and you don't know whether these people may have been exposed to it. And at the moment here in Liberia, people are just keeping their distance from other people, including myself. I keep my distance from people, nobody shakes hands, people are trying to stay roughly six feet away is what people are being told. Even on the buses, which are usually completely packed with people, like, almost practically hanging out the doors and packed in, they've started spacing people out on the buses and actually enforcing that. So Ebola is affecting just about every aspect of daily life here.

INSKEEP: Are people putting very much hope in news that experimental drugs are being used and increasingly approved for use by health authorities even though it's not certain they'll work?

BEAUBIEN: People here are a bit concerned that those drugs seem to be going to Westerners. You know, at the moment, the three people that people here have heard about are the two Americans and the Spanish priest. So it's a bit of concern that Africans themselves are not going to get these drugs and these are going to be saved for the rich foreigners.

INSKEEP: Jason, thanks very much.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Jason Beaubien in Monrovia, Liberia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.