In the course of a few months, the ebola virus has spread throughout West Africa, causing some 9,000 deaths worldwide. Citizens are often turned away from over-capacity medical facilities or, fueled by hysteria, are fearful of the very nursing staff meant to help them. What’;s more, researchers say we’;ll see “much more suffering and many more deaths during childbirth and from malaria, tuberculosis, HIV-AIDS, enteric and respiratory illnesses, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and mental health during and after the Ebola epidemic” as a consequence. Liberia, which has seen the deaths of 1,830 citizens, needs medical facilities—and international organizations are creating them in places like stadium parking lots and a 25-bed makeshift hospital.That’;s where Monrovia’;s defense ministry—or what would have been its defense ministry, if warfare hadn’;t halted construction in the ’;80s—comes into play.
When construction stopped in 1984, the government building was abandoned. In 2012, it was nearly demolished to build a $ 60M ministerial complex. It’;s unclear what stopped the redevelopment, but, in the end, the unfinished structure maintained its reported underground bomb hold, which, according to Liberia’;s newspaper once included “30-rounds of bombs and a pathway leading to the Atlantic Ocean for submarine to transport military equipment.” It’;s also not the first time the building served as an emergency shelter; in 2005, it housed 394 soldiers and their families—or roughly 3,000 people total.
Photo via NPR
Nicknamed “The Pentagon” by the people who have lived and worked within it over the years, the structure seems to augur Liberia’;s social tumult, so the building’;s current iteration as an ebola treatment center is no surprise. Newly converted into an isolation compound by 150 local workers—in a partnership between WHO, the United Nations Children’;s Fund, and others—the structure is set to open by November with 6 large tents and over 200 new beds.
“It feels like we are building a little village,” Jean-Pierre Veyrenche, a WHO coordinator, says. To build a functional medical center, the sewage system needed to be created beneath abandoned government building, and water tanks and generators had to be installed. The undertaking, while almost riveting in its remarkable adaptive reuse program, also speaks to larger issues of monolithic government projects during wartime and the real scarcity for fundamentals like functioning medical facilities.
Photo via WHO
Photo via WHO
• Under construction: another 200 beds for Ebola patients in Liberia [WHO]
• The U.S. Ebola Hospitals In Liberia Are Going Up … Slowly [NPR]
• Quarantine architecture [The Charnel House]