Ebola Outbreak Feeds on Fear, Anger, Rumors


As the health care workers were walking away, a man in a white shirt with blue stripes told someone on the phone that the health workers could not do anything to make the sick people leave the home, and that of course they would be afraid to attempt to forcibly remove them.

"They said they are afraid, they'll not feed them. That's the rumor coming," said Ezekiel Kumeh, the man in the striped shirt. "People say they're not feeding them, they're not eating, you know? So they say if they go there they will die from hunger."

Many health care workers and aid workers have said one cause for the rapid spread of the Ebola virus is the public's general mistrust of the government. Among the rumors about this disease:

  • Ebola does not exist and government workers are using it as an excuse to steal organs to sell on the black market.
  • The government is pretending Liberia has Ebola so they'll have an opportunity to receive and then abuse donated funds.
  • If a person goes to the hospital with a disease that has symptoms that mirror those of Ebola, such as malaria, that person will end up getting Ebola from the hospital.
  • Medical staffers are so afraid to catch Ebola, they neglect patients in the quarantine unit and let them starve to death.
  • Because of the noxious fumes that come from the solution workers use to spray affected areas, some people believe the spray is meant to kill them, and they don't want workers to come into their communities.

Rumors such as the ones listed above overshadow the work done by the overextended aid workers and local medical professionals who risk their lives on the front lines of the battle against Ebola. Fear and mistrust has caused some community members to sometimes react violently to the arrival of medical professionals in their communities.

Well-meaning government and aid workers have said they have been attacked on trips to collect potential Ebola victims from their communities. Though rumors make it difficult and dangerous for aid workers to do their jobs, one of them has even been repeated among health care professionals.

A nurse who wanted to remain nameless said she has heard from other nurses that some staffers avoided an Ebola patient in a Monrovia hospital and he starved to death. This would be difficult to confirm, but the rumor of death by starvation has spread widely.

Back in Clara Town, the health care workers stood near the red metal gate and convinced Kumeh that Ebola patients in the treatment centers receive three meals a day, so he said he would go back and talk to the people in the house, his sister, brother, and a family friend.

He went back to the house and tried to get the people inside to open up.

Nobody opened the door and when Kumeh finally asked if they would be okay and if he should leave, he paused, heard an answer, and then said, "Isaac, I want to hear your voice."

A male voice responded in muffled tones and Kumeh replied, "No, they say they're carrying you all to the hospital."

The person inside the house then said, "No."

Kumeh frowned and said, "Annie, I don't like what you all are doing, I don't like what you're doing to me."

With a metal door blocking his way, Kumeh eventually gave up and yelled, "All right, the people are going."

About 20 meters from the house, Kumeh said, "They're in there and for me I can't even go there."

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