URI students from Liberia to hold rally in Providence, Aug. 7, to highlight Ebola crisis in West Africa

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Students, alunni are collecting medical supplies to send to country

KINGSTON, R.I. – Aug. 5, 2014 – Liberians are staying inside, afraid to venture out as the deadly Ebola virus continues to burden the country’s already weak health care system.

That’s the word from Liberian native and University of Rhode Island alumnus Komlan Soe, whose mother, sister and brother are living in terror in the West African country.

“Liberians lost two generations of people during civil wars,” says Soe, who graduated from URI last year and lives in Providence. “Now we have a crisis that is eating up the Liberian society again.”

Soe says Monrovia, where his family lives, has come to a standstill, with residents terrified of going outdoors, even for food. He says his mother hasn’t left her house for two days.

“People don’t want to go out,” he says. “They don’t want to get infected. They’re very, very scared.”

The government, he says, is overwhelmed by the outbreak, which has killed 887 people so far in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization.

To publicize the need for international help, Soe and other Liberians will hold a rally outside the Statehouse at 3 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 7. He expects about 200 people. (There are about 15,000 Liberians living in Rhode Island.)

“The Liberian government is trying to control the outbreak, but international assistance is needed,” he says. “Liberia can’t handle this alone.”

Alarmed by the spread of the virus, the World Bank has pledged about $200 million in emergency funding to help the three countries. The money will be used to pay health workers and get sick people into hospitals.

Soe is also collecting medical supplies, including Clorox wipes, latex gloves and mouth masks, to send to his homeland. Donations can be dropped off at three places in Providence: Decontee’s Restaurant, 711 Broad St.; Jerry’s Salon, 500 Broad St.; and Christ Center for Priests, 93 Providence St.

The Ebola virus spreads by contact with infected blood and body fluids. The virus has been difficult to stop because of poor health care programs in West Africa, false rumors about the disease and a tradition of bathing bodies after death.

To combat the illness, the Liberian government ordered this week that the bodies of people killed by Ebola must be cremated, Soe says. “Friends told me they can’t even see people after they’ve died,” he says.

Antoinette Gbomina, a URI nursing student, says relatives in Liberia told her that “everyone is scared for their lives” and that more people are starting to show symptoms, which include fever, fatigue, headache and sore throat. (These symptoms are followed by diarrhea, rash, vomiting, organ failure and bleeding.)

Thankfully, Gbomina’s family members – aunts, uncles and cousins – haven’t gotten the illness, nor do they know of anyone who has died. Still, the virus is spreading so fast it’s worrisome.

“No one knows what to do,” says Gbomina, of Cranston. “No one knows how to go about their daily lives. The mood is basically depressing.”

Abigail Tubman, a URI sophomore living in Pawtucket, says her father, aunts, uncles and cousins in Monrovia fear that the disease cannot be contained.

“I would never like to see something happen to them,” she says. “It’s scary. All I can do is pray for their health and hope things get better.”

Pictured above: Komlan Soe, of Providence, a Liberian native who graduated from the University of Rhode Island last year. He says relatives in Liberia are terrified to go outdoors as the deadly Ebola outbreak worsens in the West African country.