Shunned locals flee village over Ebola fears

A body, suspected of carrying Ebola, is sprayed with disinfectant in Liberia. Photo / AP
A body, suspected of carrying Ebola, is sprayed with disinfectant in Liberia. Photo / AP

The only sounds in the abandoned Liberian village were the cries of a little girl, shut up with her mother's body inside the family home, starving and thirsty as she waited for death.

Eventually even the girl - 12-year-old Fatu Sherrif - fell silent as she too succumbed to the deadly Ebola virus that is ravaging her country and other parts of west Africa.

When AFP visited Fatu's village of Ballajah on Sunday, she had been locked away with her mother's body for a week after most residents fled to the forest to escape an outbreak of the virus.

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Belongings lay abandoned around the village, the doors of some homes left open by those rushing to leave.

A few villagers remained, including Momoh Wile, a septuagenarian local chief, who told AFP Fatu's harrowing story.

Ballajah, some 150 kilometres from the Liberian capital Monrovia, is at the heart of one of the quarantine zones established in the country in a desperate bid to try to contain the spread of the disease.

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More than 1000 people in west Africa are now believed to have died from Ebola since the start of the year. In Liberia alone, some 599 cases have been diagnosed, with 323 deaths.

Ebola was first detected in Fatu's family on July 20 when her father Abdulah fell sick, Wile told AFP.

The diagnosis sparked panic among the 500 or so people who lived in the village. They called health authorities but by the time a team finally arrived, Abdulah, 51, had been dead for five days.

His wife, Seidia Passawee Sherrif, 43, and Fatu were already sick. Only their son, Barnie, 15, tested negative for Ebola.

The health workers took Abdulah's body, and, according to Wile, told the villagers "not to go near the lady and her daughter".


A health worker screens patients for Ebola at a Sierra Leone hospital. Photo / AP

"They were crying all day and all night, begging their neighbours to give them food but everyone was afraid."

Fatu's mother eventually died on August 10 but the girl's cries could still be heard around the otherwise abandoned village.

The doors and windows to the house were sealed shut and there was no way to see inside.

Reached by AFP on Tuesday, local time, Wile said Fatu had died overnight, still alone, and still without water or food. The only surviving member of the family, Fatu's 15-year-old brother Barnie, tested negative for the virus but was still shunned by his fellow villagers.

Watch: Scale of Ebola crisis unprecedented - US official

AFP found Barnie on Sunday taking refuge in one of the abandoned houses, alone and scrounging for food.

Looking tired and haggard, dressed in a dirty t-shirt and worn sandals, Barnie sobbed as he told his story.

"It is here that I sleep; it is here that I stay the whole day. Nobody wants to come near me and they know - people told them that I don't have Ebola," he said.

"When I am hungry, I go in the bush to look for greens," he said. "That's what God says so I accept."

Asked about Barnie a few days later, Wile said he had no news.

The villagers who abandoned Fatu and Barnie have meanwhile themselves been shunned by neighbouring towns also in fear of the spread of the virus, Wile said.

Health authorities in Liberia - where President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared a state of emergency on August 6 - refused to comment on the case.

Canada to donate experimental vaccine

Meanwhile Canada is donating an experimental Ebola vaccine after the World Health Organization declared it is ethical to use untested drugs and vaccines in the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose said today that Canada will donate 800 to 1000 doses to the World Health Organization. Canada will keep a small supply of the experimental vaccine in case it is needed for use there.

Dr Gregory Taylor, deputy head of the Public Health Agency of Canada, said Canada had about 1500 doses.

The government said the vaccine, developed by scientists at the agency's National Microbiology Laboratory, had never been tested in humans but had shown promise in animals.

There is no proven treatment or vaccine for Ebola, but several efforts are in early stages of development.

- AFP / AP

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