Two more people have died of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to reports on Wednesday, May 23, as officials said that three Ebola patients have escaped quarantine.
Reuters reported that three patients slipped out of an isolation ward in the city of Mbandaka. The cases represent a setback to costly efforts to contain the virus, including the use of an experimental vaccine, and show efforts to stem its spread can be hampered by age-old customs or skepticism about the threat it poses.
Two patients left the hospital Monday night with the help of family members, Reuters reported, citing the U.N. World Health Organization, adding that they went to a church.
One patient died at home the next day and was buried with the aid of Medecins Sans Frontieres. The other was taken back to the hospital and died that night, officials said.
Another patient close to being discharged left Sunday but was found later, Reuters reported.
“This is a hospital. It’s not a prison. We can’t lock everything,” Henry Gray, the head of the MSF mission in Mbandaka, told the news agency.
“It is unfortunate but not unexpected,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic was quoted as saying. “It is normal for people to want the loved ones to be at home during what could be the last moments of life.”
WHO’s response chief warned that the fight to put an end to the Ebola outbreak is at 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 controls,” WHO’s emergency response chief Peter Salama said, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Officials are particularly concerned that the disease could spread via the Congo River, which passes through Mbandaka and leads to Kinshasa, the capital, which has 10 million people living there.
The outbreak was first reported near the town of Bikoro, located about 60 miles south of the city.
Officials believe that 27 people have died of Ebola in the outbreak along with 58 cases, ABC News reported, citing WHO officials.
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