Three patients infected with the Ebola virus slipped out of an isolation ward at a hospital in the Congolese city of Mbandaka, health officials said, as medics raced to stop the deadly disease from spreading in the busy river port.
Two patients left the hospital on Monday night with the help of family members, then headed to a church, the World Health Organization’s spokesman in Congo, Eugene Kabambi, told Reuters.
One died at home the next day and was buried with the help of medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). The other was sent back to hospital and died that night, Kabambi said.
Health Ministry sources, who asked not to be named, said two police officers had been deployed to help track them down.
Another patient who was close to being discharged left on Sunday evening but was later found, Kabambi said.
The WHO and MSF said they could not force patients to stay in hospital but hoped that growing awareness of the disease and its risks would convince people to follow medical advice.
“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 Reuters.
WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said health workers had redoubled efforts to trace contacts with the patients. Health workers have drawn up a list of 628 people who have had contact with known cases who will need to be vaccinated.
“It is unfortunate but not unexpected,” he said. “It is normal for people to want the loved ones to be at home during what could be the last moments of life.”