Three Ebola patients ESCAPE Congo quarantine, as medics race to control outbreak that has killed at least 27 people so far
- Two of the patients got out on Monday but were found dead a day later
- Another left Saturday, but was found alive and is now under observation
- Aid group says the hospital in the Congo city of Mbandaka is ‘not a prison’
- World Health Organization warns the fight to stop Democratic Republic of Congo’s outbreak has reached a critical point
Three patients infected with the deadly Ebola virus escaped from a hospital holding them in quarantine in the Congo city of Mbandaka, an aid group said, as medics raced to stop the disease spreading in the teeming river port.
Two of the patients got out on Monday but were found dead a day later, said Henri Gray, the head of the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) mission in the city.
Another left on Saturday, but was found alive the same day and is now under observation, Gray added.
‘This is a hospital. It’s not a prison. We can’t lock everything,’ he said.
Three Ebola patients infected with the deadly Ebola virus escaped from a hospital in the Congo city of Mbandaka. Pictured: A team from Medecins Sans Frontieres dons protective clothing as they prepare to treat Ebola patients in an isolation ward of Mbandaka hospital on Sunday
The report came as the World Health Organization warned that the fight to stop Democratic Republic of Congo’s ninth confirmed outbreak of the hemorrhagic fever had reached a critical point.
‘The next few weeks will really tell if this outbreak is going to expand to urban areas or if we´re going to be able to keep it under control,’ WHO’s emergency response chief Peter Salama told ministers and diplomats in Geneva.
‘We´re on the epidemiological knife edge of this response,’ he added at the U.N. body’s annual assembly.
Health officials are particularly concerned by the disease’s presence in Mbandaka, a crowded trading hub upstream from Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, a city of some 10 million people. The river also runs along the border with the Republic of Congo.
An International Red Cross Committee (ICRC) worker walks in front of a quarantine zone at the hospital of Wangata in Mbandaka on Tuesday
UNICEF are providing clean water for schoolchildren to wash their hands to help contain the Ebola outbreak before entering a classroom in the north-western city of Mbandaka
SUPERSTITION STOPPING EBOLA VICTIMS FROM SEEKING CARE
Health workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo say local belief that Ebola is a curse or the result of evil spirits is preventing victims from seeking medical care, who are instead turning to preachers.
The pastor of an evangelical church last Wednesday died several days after he ‘prayed’ for an Ebola victim who went to him for help, a doctor said.
‘Some sick people believe that the Ebola epidemic comes from sorcery – they refuse to be treated and prefer to pray,’ said Julie Lobali, a nurse working in a hospital in Mbandaka.
Nurses working with the World Health Organization (WHO) prepare to administer vaccines at the town all of Mbandaka
One superstition that has become prevalent in the city, she says, is believing that Ebola began in Bikoro as ‘a curse on those who ate stolen meat’ – a wild animal hunted in the countryside.
Blandine Mboyo, who lives in Mbandaka’s district of Bongondjo, told AFP ‘a hunter put a curse on the village because his big game was stolen.’
‘This curse is so powerful because it hits those who ate this meat, having heard about the theft or having seen the stolen animal,’ added Nicole Batoa, a local vendor.
Another resident, Guy Ingila, observed that officials have said on the radio ‘this disease is incurable… It’s because it’s about witchcraft.’.
For doctors and health officials these beliefs raise serious concerns, complicating efforts to contain and roll back the deadly Ebola virus.
In DR Congo, as elsewhere in Africa, disease and death are often not looked on as natural phenomena.
‘So many deaths is a sign of a curse and can only have been provoked by a bad spirit,’ said Zacharie Bababaswe, a Congolese specialist in cultural history, explaining people’s perceptions of Ebola.
Before the expansion of evangelical churches in the country, Bababaswe says many Congolese would go see the witch doctor or village healer for treatment.
Today there is still widespread superstition – but, since the 1980s, it has taken a different form, with some people turning for help to a church or a pastor who claims to have healing powers.
Two people infected with Ebola from Bikoro went to the churches rather than a medical centre for help, local witnesses said.
Another patient, who had been hospitalised in Mbandaka, left the medical centre to seek out a local healer, they said.
To brake the spread of Ebola, ‘we have to convince villagers that the disease is not a curse,’ said Bavon N’Sa Mputu, an elected official from Bikoro, pointing to the key role that churches can play.
The outbreak, which was first spotted near the town of Bikoro, about 100 km (60 miles) south of the city, is believed to have killed at least 27 people so far.
Health workers have drawn up a list of 628 people who have had contact with known cases who will need to be vaccinated.
‘It´s really the detective work of epidemiology that will make or break the response to this outbreak,’ Salama said.
The disease was first discovered in Congo in the 1970s. It is spread through direct contact with body fluids from an infected person, who suffers severe bouts of vomiting and diarrhoea.
More than 11,300 people died in an Ebola outbreak in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone between 2013 and 2016.
A health worker preparing a potentially life-saving Ebola vaccine in Mbandaka, Congo on Monday
Health workers administering the vaccine to other volunteers so they will be able to give it to members of the public without fear of infection
WHAT IS EBOLA AND HOW DEADLY IS IT?
Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, killed at least 11,000 across the world after it decimated West Africa and spread rapidly over the space of two years.
That pandemic was officially declared over back in January 2016, when Liberia was announced to be Ebola-free by the WHO.
The country, rocked by back-to-back civil wars that ended in 2003, was hit the hardest by the fever, with 40 per cent of the deaths having occurred there.
Sierra Leone reported the highest number of Ebola cases, with nearly of all those infected having been residents of the nation.
WHERE DID IT BEGIN?
An analysis, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the outbreak began in Guinea – which neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone.
A team of international researchers were able to trace the pandemic back to a two-year-old boy in Meliandou – about 400 miles (650km) from the capital, Conakry.
Emile Ouamouno, known more commonly as Patient Zero, may have contracted the deadly virus by playing with bats in a hollow tree, a study suggested.
An infected child is led away by a nurse at the Medecins Sans Frontiers centre in Monrovia, Liberia in 2014
Figures show nearly 29,000 people were infected from Ebola – meaning the virus killed around 40 per cent of those it struck.
Cases and deaths were also reported in Nigeria, Mali and the US – but on a much smaller scale, with 15 fatalities between the three nations.
Health officials in Guinea reported a mysterious bug in the south-eastern regions of the country before the WHO confirmed it was Ebola.
Ebola was first identified by scientists in 1976, but the most recent outbreak dwarfed all other ones recorded in history, figures show.
HOW DID HUMANS CONTRACT THE VIRUS?
Scientists believe Ebola is most often passed to humans by fruit bats, but antelope, porcupines, gorillas and chimpanzees could also be to blame.
It can be transmitted between humans through blood, secretions and other bodily fluids of people – and surfaces – that have been infected.
IS THERE A TREATMENT?
The WHO warns that there is ‘no proven treatment’ for Ebola – but dozens of drugs and jabs are being tested in case of a similarly devastating outbreak.
Hope exists though, after an experimental vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, protected nearly 6,000 people. The results were published in The Lancet journal.
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