If ever there was a likely spot for an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, New Kru Town in Liberia is it. A sprawling slum of the country’s war-ravaged capital, Monrovia, it is home to 50,000 people, and has next to no functioning lavatories, sinks or bathrooms.
Sewage runs openly through its maze of corrugated shacks, and in Liberia’s wet season – at its height right now – tropical torrents turn it into one vast, warm, moist, breeding pool for germs.
It hardly feels surprising then, in the wake of several locals dying from Ebola, to see health teams daubing blue crosses on a number of shacks around town.
These, however, are not to identify those who have caught the disease, but to mark the relatively few New Kru Towners who have been visited by the teams and accepted their advice on how to avoid getting it. So far, only around 500 houses have been marked – and with health workers themselves accused of spreading the disease, some parts of New Kru Town remain decidedly hostile.
“This is a very poor neighbourhood where sanitation is lacking and people are not well educated in the principles of hygiene,” said Tamba Bundor, leader of a team of hardy volunteers from local health charity Community Development Services, a Unicef partner, as he drove his car through wet, sandy backlanes.