Ahmed Jallanzo spent 16 years in the Liberian capital of Monrovia working as a street photographer before he became a photojournalist in 2003 during the Liberian civil war.
Now a photographer for the European Pressphoto Agency and South Africa-based Africa Media Online, Jallanzo has been documenting the outbreak of Ebola in the West African nation since it began in March of 2014. Through mid-September, the virus has killed more than 1,200 people in a country with a population of 4.4 million.
Jallanzo spoke with Global Journalist's Laura Welfringer about the difficulties of covering the outbreak, and his efforts not to lose hope amid scenes of death and desperation.
“Ebola is in my home, it's in my community, it's in my country," Jallanzo says. "I don't have to go to the front lines... I can catch Ebola and get infected at my home.. So if you want to protect yourself from Ebola, if you have the capacity, you have to protect your family, you have to protect your close friends, you protect your close neighbors.”
Whenever Jallanzo is asked if he would leave his country in order to escape the spreading virus, his answer is always 'no.' "I have to tell the story," he says.
Covering the outbreak of a deadly disease that can be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids makes prevention paramount. Jallanzo sprays bleach on his shoes and dons protective gear when photographing Ebola patients up close. "I try as much as possible to protect myself," he says. "Sometimes I am still not satisfied."
Jallanzo was among a group of reporters who covered the Liberian government's attempt to quarantine tens of thousands of residents of the West Point neighborhood of Monrovia in an effort to halt the spread of Ebola in the city. That meant the government and aid agencies had to distribute food to those trapped behind the quarantine, a process that left many people angry.
"They were impatient because everyone wanted food to eat," says Jallanzo. "So they were in queues, but it was very dangerous because, according to the government, and according to the sensitization program on Ebola, people should not gather...so there was no control. People were just rushing. They were impatient, they were complaining, crying for food...crying for help."
Anger over the blockade led to rioting in West Point Aug. 20 when a government official in the quarantined neighborhood attempted to evacuate her family with an armed escort. In the ensuing clashes with police, a 15-year-old boy, Shakie Kamara, was shot and later died.
"So the police and security forces decided to go and evacuate the commissioner from her house," says Jallanzo. "With other journalists, I followed the police who came to the commissioner's house to rescue and evacuate her and her family. At this moment, during the evacuation, the residents said, ‘No, we are not going to allow this. She is our leader, she is our commissioner, she must stay with us.’ So they started throwing stones, and this is how it started. Shootings started in the air. I did not actually see the shooting. I only saw the body lying down, on the side of the road.”
"Liberian people are always accusing me of making money out of [their suffering]," says Jallanzo. "I can understand their concern and I take my time to educate them....If there is no media, as you know, the world is going to be very, very dark. Media are light. Images are going to show your suffering. I am sorry that it has to be you, but since you are the ones suffering, you are just going to represent the rest of the Liberian people."
That may prove cold comfort for some. But at least they come from someone who is putting himself in harm's way to send a message.
"I know it's dangerous, I know I can be infected," says Jallanzo. " But I also have a responsibility, as a journalist, to tell the story."