Armed bandits in Guinea have stolen a batch of blood samples infected with the deadly Ebola virus which were being delivered to a test centre.
The robbers held up a minibus near the town of Kissidougou which was transporting the samples from central Kankan prefecture to the test site 165 miles away in southern Gueckedou.
The blood was stored in a sealed container and was being escorted by four Red Cross officials. It is believed the bandits had no idea what it was they were stealing and may have thought there was cash hidden inside the container.
Guinea authorities publicly appealed on national radio to the unidentified robbers to hand over the stolen samples that are understood to have been taken from a single person.
The theft underscores how hazards abound and hiccups remain in the aid response, despite millions of dollars’ worth of international support pouring into West Africa to fight a virus now responsible for more than 5,000 deaths.
Guinea Red Cross press officer Faya Etienne Tolno explained that the Guinea Red Cross did not have its own vehicles for transport, which explains why a taxi was commissioned.
‘We don’t understand why they stole the blood sample. Perhaps they thought there was cash hidden in the flask,’ Tolno said.
Dr. Barry Moumie, who heads patient care for the national Ebola response coordination committee, told The Associated Press: ‘We have informed the security services. If these thieves handle this blood, it will be dangerous.’
‘I can assure you, however, that the sample-transportation procedures will now be strengthened to avoid such disappointments,’ he said.
Ebola, which has killed more than 5,000 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, is spread primarily by contact with infected bodily fluids including blood, feces and vomit.