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Reporting On Ebola: An Abandoned 10-Year-Old, A Nervous Neighborhood

Photo caption:

Photo by David Gilkey NPR

Saah Exco, a 10-year-old boy suspected of being sick with Ebola, was found naked on the beach by residents of West Point. They dressed him but couldn't find a clinic to take him in at first. Eventually he was was taken to JFK Hospital in Monrovia.

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The West Point area of Monrovia made headlines this weekend. A holding center for patients suspected of having Ebola was raided on Saturday. Patients fled, and looters carted off bloody mattresses and other possibly infected supplies. The NPR team in Liberia visited West Point yesterday. We spoke to correspondent Nurith Aizenman about the experience.

What is West Point like?

It is a sort of finger of land, a little sandy peninsula that juts out from a nicer area of Monrovia, abutting a river on one side and the ocean on the other. It's about 800 meters long and 550 meters wide. There are only two roads in that are paved. The rest is a thicket of shacks and houses and huts, pretty much all one story and built of plywood or cement blocks, with corrugated metal on the rooftops. Between them are sandy pathways. It's so closely packed that in some cases if you're trying to get to your house you have to walk through someone else's house.

Both sides of the paved roads are packed with shops selling all manners of goods, vegetables, fish. There are throngs of people, carrying big buckets on their heads with all sorts of goods. If you drive in, you gently nudge your way forward, parting this sea of people.

And that's where NPR's photographer David Gilkey encountered the 10-year-old in the picture above?

Residents had originally found this boy naked on the beach. They dragged him up to a sort of alleyway and put a shirt and pants on him. But beyond that no one wanted to touch him, no one wanted to give him shelter, because it seems he was a child who had been at that holding center for Ebola patients.

Where is the boy now?

A woman went to a nearby health clinic to see if they would take the boy in, but she said the clinic refused because he may have Ebola. The boy was looking very ill at this point. But we heard from someone in West Point that the boy has now been taken to JFK hospital, where the government, with the assistance of the World Health Organization, has just opened the fourth treatment center for Ebola. And although I haven't confirmed it, we heard accounts that the boy seemed to have revived a little bit.

What do people in West Point think about the raid on the center?

We talked to several people who were upset that there was no effort to alert the community as to what this center was about, and they were also upset that the center had accepted people from other neighborhoods.

Some people said they want the center to reopen as long as they would be assured that no one from outside the community would be brought there and that they would be included in communications about the center.

You mentioned yesterday that some Liberians are skeptical about Ebola — they think it's something the government made up to get more foreign aid. What do they think in West Point?

We've heard reports that at the raid, people were shouting "Ebola doesn't exist." But if you think the disease doesn't exist, why would you be mad that people from other neighborhoods with this supposed nonexistent disease would have been brought in? The bottom line is that there is a lot of fear and confusion.

Is this a tough story to report?

It's difficult. Normally you would not be afraid of children. But now you have to be wary of children because a child will come and tug on your sleeve. That's not threatening in other places but here things are different. I keep my hands in my pockets at all times.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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