National Geographic News
Photo of a Liberian Army soldier, part of the Ebola Task Force, beating a local resident while enforcing a quarantine on the West Point slum on August 20, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia.

A Liberian soldier beats a local resident while enforcing a quarantine in Monrovia's West Point slum on Wednesday.

Photograph by John Moore, Getty

Diane Cole

for National Geographic

Published August 21, 2014

Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer John Moore has covered wars in Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq, among other places. But when he arrived in Liberia's capital city of Monrovia this month to report on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, he faced dangers of a different order.

Liberia has 972 probable, suspected, or confirmed cases of the disease, with 576 dead, more than any other country. Including the countries of Guinea, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, the death toll from Ebola has reached 1,350, according to the World Health Organization. (Related: "As Ebola Crisis Spreads in West Africa, Liberia's Deterioration Stands Out.")

Since Moore's arrival in Monrovia, there has been an attack on an isolation center that sent quarantined Ebola patients fleeing. This week, Liberian soldiers quarantined Monrovia's West Point slum in an effort to contain the virus, provoking clashes with neighborhood residents.

Moore spoke to National Geographic about the harrowing scenes he's documented, the personal risks he faces—and the humanity that endures.

A photo of Liberian riot policemen enforcing a quarantine in Monrovia, Liberia.
Riot police enforce the quarantine in West Point, home to 75,000 impoverished people.
Photograph by John Moore, Getty

What have you seen since your arrival?

I started photographing in the West Point area the day after I learned of the Ebola isolation center there. I was able to get access inside. It was a horrific scene. There were sick people and dead people in the same room. There were people with symptomatic cases of Ebola in the same room as those who may have been exposed but did not yet appear ill. They were not yet getting medicine. Nor were there IVs for hydration. That place was highly infectious.

A photo of Getty photographer John Moore on location covering Ebola in Liberia.

Photographer John Moore dons
protective clothing before joining
a Liberian burial team set to
remove the body of an Ebola victim
from her home in Monrovia.

Photograph by Raymond Zarbay

The next day, I was there when a large crowd drove away a burial team and its police escort. People in the mob were shouting: "This [Ebola] is a hoax!" And they wanted to pull and did pull patients out of the isolation ward. One man carried out a child dangling from one arm, and they disappeared into the crowd. Everything was looted and carried away, including contaminated mattresses. If they did not have Ebola in their community before, it is fair to say that they do now.

That was over the weekend. What's happened since?

West Point is now under quarantine; it's blocked off. This is an attempt to slow the epidemic in the capital city. But 75,000 people live there, so there will soon be shortages of basic necessities unless the government quickly figures out a way to supply them right now.

I was able to get to the military checkpoint and go in. I photographed the whole way, as the military beat and pushed people back and beat them back with truncheons. I left with the military under a hail of stones.

An aerial photo of the Monrovia Liberia neat the coast.
Fishermen pull a waterlogged boat from the water in West Point, where the quarantine provoked clashes between residents and government authorities.
Photograph by John Moore, Getty

Did you get hurt?

I was fine, and my equipment was fine.

Do you feel at more risk covering the Ebola outbreak—where the "enemy" is a potentially deadly infectious virus with a fatality rate of as much as 90 percent—than working in war zones?

This isn't more scary, but as with working in any dangerous area, it's a matter of risk management. Before I came, I researched necessary precautions to keep me healthy. I brought sets of anti-contamination clothing called PPE [personal protection equipment], which included coveralls, boot covers, gloves, masks, goggles, and so on. All of these pieces are for one-time use, and they are disposable. When I go into a contaminated area, I do so with health workers, and I put the gear on and take it off in a particular order, as they do.

A photo of a man sick with Ebola trying to stand as a corpse lies nearby in an Ebola ward in Liberia.
Ibrahim Fambulle, sick and weak, tries to stand as a corpse lies nearby in a Monrovia Ebola ward.
Photograph by John Moore, Getty

Do you wear the protective suits all the time?

I brought a total of 24 suits. I won't use nearly that many sets—I've used five of them so far.

I was suited up whenever I was in the isolation center at West Point. That place was highly infectious. I would also completely suit up when accompanying burial teams into houses to recover bodies.

But people would riot if they saw me walking down the street in those anti-contamination suits. They would be afraid. And I don't want to agitate people further.

Do you feel safe as you're walking around there?

In addition to my fixer who is also my driver, I work with a community organizer there who is respected in the community, and I can walk around with him in relative safety. Without him all bets would be off. West Point is known not just for its squalor but [also] for its drug use, violence, and crime.

But I talk to people here all the time. Luckily, the language here is English, so I joke with people on the streets, compliment people on the food they're cooking or what they're wearing, and can interact in ways that hopefully makes them feel at ease in my presence.

Photo of local residents gathering around a very sick young boy in a back alley of the West Point slum.
West Point residents gather around 10-year-old Saah Exco, one of the patients pulled from a holding center for suspected Ebola patients when the facility was attacked last weekend.
Photograph by John Moore, Getty

What are you trying to convey in your photos from there?

I'm trying to show the daily life in that community, not just the news and the tragedy but what daily life is like. You also have many moments of joy, and I think it's important to show not just the tragedies but the humanity of a place.

For instance, there's a picture overlooking the beach of a couple dancing, which I thought was a very sweet moment. They are dancing and laughing and holding each other as couples do all over the world.

Are there other precautions you're taking?

I wash my hands dozens of times a day and am careful not touch my face. Because Ebola is transmitted by bodily fluids, many Ebola victims are caregivers who have been exposed to bodily fluids like vomit and feces and sweat and saliva.

A photo of a burial team disinfecting the body of a woman suspected to have died from Ebola.
A burial team from the Liberian health department sprays disinfectant over the body of a woman suspected of dying of the Ebola virus in Monrovia.
Photograph by John Moore, Getty

What will you do with your unused protective gear when you leave?

I will give the extra unused sets to journalists here. I also brought many extra gloves, which I have given out on occasion at health centers where they didn't have enough.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

RELATED:

Successful Marburg Virus Treatment Offers Hope for Ebola Patients

As Ebola Crisis Spreads in West Africa, Liberia's Deterioration Stands Out

Q&A: Challenges of Containing Ebola's Spread in West Africa

Why Deadly Ebola Virus Is Likely to Hit the U.S. But Not Spread

Q&A: American Virus Expert in Africa's Ebola Zone: 'This is Like War'

9 comments
Christian Venturini
Christian Venturini

la ignorancia y la pobreza son el caldo de cultivo de estas nefastas enfermedades, que comienzan a preocupar al mundo occidental cuando se salen de control, no cuando un monton de pobres del cuarto mundo mueren como animales, esto se podria prevenir "curando la pobreza", no corriendo a inventar una cura milagrosa que terminan siendo solo un negocio para las corporaciones farmaceuticas.

dana sargent
dana sargent

heartbreaking photos; thank you for the coverage of this helping those of us so far away get a glimpse of what's really happening.  I hate to be the annoying grammar commenter - but the following caption caught me off guard, and kind of took my breath away, as it sounds like the woman is being sprayed WHILE dying, not after her death: "A burial team from the Liberian health department sprays disinfectant over the body of a woman suspected of dying of the Ebola virus in Monrovia." 

Cynthia B.
Cynthia B.

Very sad. A brave man to go into the middle of that.

Dixie Hodges
Dixie Hodges

In this world of high tech things- the cold hard fact is that that doesn't matter when it comes to economic inequality. Poverty breeds bacteria and viruses. I thank you for sharing such poignant images. It is important, I believe , that there are media connections to impoverished conditions. Many times this helps to rally support by raising awareness. You, John Moore are a warrior for the human condition. Thank you for being there to raise human awareness- mine in particular!

Joe Smith
Joe Smith

Seriously? You are the VERY annoying grammar police. Read again. It says the burial team. They don't bury people that are alive. Could you please think before posting?

El Howard
El Howard

@Dixie Hodges The real tragedy is that thousands of people are going to die in the region due to ignorance. The countries where the virus are spreading all have one thing in common: no public education. Life decisions are made based on rumors spread mouth-to-mouth, not on established facts. Most of the time, that wouldn't matter. But now, at lot of people will die because of it.


It's obvious what needs to be done. 1) Provide protective gear to ALL health care workers (people have already started on this) 2) Fund a public education campaign to teach everyone how this and other diseases are spread, and how to stop the spread of disease, 3) Make tens of thousands of doses of siRNA and ZMapp (and possibly others) antivirals available cheaply, either before or after completing human testing. 4) Appalling as it is to those of us that believe in freedom, in some cases forcible quarantine and travel restrictions are necessary to protect the public good. I have extremely mixed emotions about West Point, which has apparently now become an "Ebola Ghetto", where residents are consigned to die, or fired upon in they attempt to escape. I can't say whether or not this is the right thing to do, but it may become necessary to restrict the movement of people to contain the spread of disease.

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