Liberian officials were searching yesterday for 17 Ebola patients who fled an attack on a quarantine centre in the capital Monrovia, raising fears that they could spread the deadly and highly contagious disease.
“We have not yet found them,” Information Minister Lewis Brown said, adding that “those who looted the place took away mattresses and bedding that were soaked with fluids from the patients”.
On Saturday, youths wielding clubs and knives raided the medical facility set up in a high school in the densely populated West Point slum, some shouting “there’s no Ebola”, echoing wild rumours that the epidemic had been made up by the West to oppress Africans.
The authorities are now considering sealing off the area, home to around 75,000 people, although some reports suggest the infected patients may have already fled West Point.
“All those hooligans who looted the centre are all now probable carriers of the disease,” said Brown, the spokesman for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. “To quarantine the area could be one of the solutions.”
“We run the risk of facing a difficult-to-control situation,” he warned.
Ebola has killed at least 1,145 people in West Africa since the start of the year. There is no known cure for the haemorrhagic fever, which can be spread through bodily fluids including blood and sweat.
The head of the Health Workers Association of Liberia, George Williams, said the unit had housed 29 patients who “had all tested positive for Ebola” and were receiving preliminary treatment before being taken to hospital.
“Of the 29 patients, 17 fled (after the assault),” Williams said Sunday. “Nine died four days ago and three others were yesterday (Saturday) taken by force by their relatives” from the centre, he said.
Fallah Boima’s son Michel was among the patients who fled the centre. “I am afraid that he could die somewhere, and I will not know,” he told AFP.
Wilmont Johnson, head of a youth association in West Point, told journalists yesterday that he had organised a search for the missing patients.
“We searched everywhere but we did not see them. Those who saw them passing told us that they have gone into other communities,” Johnson said, suggesting that quarantining efforts might come too late.
However, as West African countries afflicted by the Ebola virus battled to contain the scourge, the United States government announced yesterday that it shall deploy 100 US medical personnel to help in the effort against the Ebola outbreak in some parts of sub-region.
US Ambassador to the African Union (AU), Reuben Brigety, stated this in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at an information sharing session on Ebola at the AU Permanent Representatives Committee (PRC).
Brigety said the US would deploy 25 medical doctors and 75 nurses to the four countries affected by the virus, including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria.
He, however, said the deployment to the Ebola-affected countries was subject to the AU approval, as the US government was ready to assist.
The envoy advised African countries to also send doctors and medical personnel to provide the services needed to tackle the disease in the affected countries.
At the session, Japan announced that it had donated $1.5 million to the World Health Organisation (WHO) fund toward fighting the virus.
Its representative at the AU said the Asian country had also sent medical experts to affected countries.