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Getty Photographer Witnesses Attack On Ebola Quarantine Center


In the capital of Liberia a quarantine center for patients with the deadly Ebola virus was attacked over the weekend. Patients were dragged out of a school by angry protesters. More than 400 people have died from Ebola in Liberia, part of more than 1,100 total deaths recorded by the World Health Organization.

John Moore is a photographer for Getty Images, who was at the scene over the weekend. He joins me now from Monrovia. John, can you tell us what you saw?

JOHN MOORE: The day that that ward was overrun actually started with other events.

A Liberian health ministry burial team had come in to collect four bodies - people who died overnight - and the families didn't want to give up the bodies and the local community rallied with the families, claiming basically that the whole Ebola epidemic is a hoax. And so they drove out both the burial team and the police escort.

Police fired warning shots into the air and the crowd was exuberant, having you know, won this battle in their minds. And then they marched on the isolation ward and pushed through the doors and basically pulled out the patients. Members of this mob literally pulled people out of the isolation ward. I saw a man carrying a small girl by one arm up in the air and she was screaming, and the crowd carried them off.

MCEVERS: You said you were there to document the conditions inside this holding center. What are those conditions? What are these holding centers like?

MOORE: Well, this particular holding center was made from a school. It had been a USAID funded elementary school which had been closed. All the schools here have been closed due to the virus. And there were families inside; women and kids who looked pretty healthy alongside men were in much worse shape. Now, they did eventually move them into separate rooms, but, you know, it's very hard to separate a very sick person from others. They can barely walk. The health workers there for the ministry had run out of gloves and so it was very difficult for them to help these folks. I donated whatever gloves I had, which was of course not enough; they always need more.

MCEVERS: John, I have to ask you, what precautions do you take when you're photographing Ebola patients?

MOORE: When I'm in infectious places, like isolation wards or if I accompany a burial team to retrieve patients or dead bodies from houses, I'm wearing personal protective equipment. It's basically anti-contamination suits. And I brought many of them with me. They're all disposable. And you're just very careful with everything you touch. It's very important never to touch your face when you're here because this is not an airborne virus, but it is passed by bodily fluids and you have to make sure you don't contract any of this.

MCEVERS: What is your sense of why this community doesn't want - was angry about having - a holding center in the community?

MOORE: Well, the patients at this center were not receiving any treatment or medication. Now, while I think that we all know that Ebola doesn't have a cure, there are drugs that you can give to make the symptoms less severe. For instance, they have no aspirin to reduce fever, they didn't have any IVs to rehydrate. And so the patients were not receiving the kind of care they needed and people in the community knew that. And they were upset that they, number one, were not receiving proper treatment and number two, there's a fair number of people - I can't say the majority - but a fair number of people here in the slums who believe that the Ebola virus and the epidemic is a hoax - that it's not real after all - and it's a way for the Liberian government to bring in foreign money.

MCEVERS: John Moore is a senior staff photographer for Getty Images. He joined us from Monrovia. John, thanks so much and thanks for your work.

MOORE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.