Three Ebola patients escape from quarantine, raising fears virus could spread

Ebola patients have escaped quarantine in a city of 350,000 people amid fears the outbreak could be on verge of getting worse

                            Three Ebola patients escape from quarantine, raising fears virus could spread
(Source:Getty Images)

Three Ebola patients have reportedly escaped from quarantine in Mbandaka, a port city of nearly 1.2 million people in the northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesman for the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, two of the three escapees have been found dead, while the third patient is still alive and back under observation, reported ABC News.

The incident was confirmed by the Medecins Sans Frontieres' (MSF) mission which works to treat cases of Ebola in the city.

"It is unfortunate but not unexpected," Jasarevic told ABC News in an email on Thursday. "It is normal for people to want the loved ones to be at home during what could be the last moments of life."

He added that WHO staff in the DRC have "redoubled" their efforts to track everyone who came in contact with the three escapees.

"Because Ebola virus is not like any other disease and because exposure to the dead body or bodily fluids or personal items of the person who died of Ebola can spread the disease, it is important for us to be able to explain these issues to the family members," he added.

"We are working with local community leaders, traditional leaders and healers, and religious leaders to better engage with communities so that we understand each other better and can work together in stopping the outbreak."

As medical authorities continue their crackdown on the notorious virus, the death toll from the outbreak has already reached 27.

A resurge of the virus in the city could mean a reiteration of the outbreak that occurred in 2014 wherein 11,000 lives were claimed, World Health Organization officials warned.

In a conversation with Daily Star Online, a spokesman for the WHO said: "The appearance of a confirmed case in Mbandaka is very concerning.

"WHO and partners are working together to rapidly scale up the search for all contacts of the confirmed case in the area.

"Controlling a virus once it has reached a large urban area is particularly challenging."

"The last big Ebola outbreak in 2014-15 showed the devastation that can occur when the virus gains a foothold in an urban setting."

In a desperate attempt to contain the spread of the dreaded virus, the WHO has shipped over 8,600 vaccines to the DRC.

A second batch of 8,000 vaccine cases is expected to arrive in the next few days.

According to medical experts, the latest dose of the vaccine is a "paradigm shift" in dealing with the disease.

Apparently, the world is much more prepared to fight the virus as compared to the situation in 2014, medical chiefs at WHO claimed.

That being said, aid agencies are in a constant pursuit to coerce skeptical residents about the gravity of an outbreak that has already killed 27 since April, this year.

However, quite a few patients are currently refusing medical attention they need and banking on preachers and prayers to cure their condition.

Even pastors at various churches have been convincing people to "pray" for the disease to go away instead of being treated with vaccines.

Ebola is also believed to be a "curse on those who ate stolen meat". 

Health worker Julie Lomball said: “Some sick people believe that the Ebola epidemic comes from sorcery.

"They refuse to be treated and prefer to pray."

Reportedly, state officials have announced on the radio that “this disease is incurable. It’s because it’s about witchcraft".

Health officials in Africa have said that they are preparing to send anthropologists to help with an Ebola vaccination campaign in the DRC.

The prototype vaccine will first be administered to frontline health workers and then to those who have been exposed to Ebola patients.

The head of Africa Centres for Disease Control, John Nkengasong, said: “If we do not handle communication well, the vaccination programme may suffer.

“So we are also assessing how in the next two weeks or so to deploy anthropologists to support the vaccine efforts.”

The country's health ministry along WHO and Oxfam, who are its international partners, are organizing community dialogues and going door-to-door to advise people on the various hygiene precautions one must take when such an outbreak occurs. This is essential as many residents follow religious and traditional practices, especially during funerals, which do not follow health guidelines.

Many who live in rural areas do not believe Ebola is a real disease and many are of the belief that Western medicine cannot help with the cure.

"We hear people having doubts and worries about the epidemic,” Jose Barahona, Oxfam's country director in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said.

“Some people don't believe in the Ebola virus or in the medication provided; others are afraid of it. We have seen cases of people leaving hospitals and refusing care, which could have dramatic consequences. There are also some traditional practices concerning the handling and burial of dead bodies that can increase the risk of transmission after death."

The number of confirmed Ebola cases in Mbandaka city jumped to four by the end of last week. According to the country's health ministry, numerous suspected cases have been recorded in the region.

The Democratic Republic of Congo's Minister of Health Oly Ilunga Kalenga said in a statement in French last week: "We are entering a new phase of the Ebola outbreak that is now affecting three health zones, including an urban health zone."