Ebola patients slip out of Congo hospital as medics try to control outbreak
By Patient Ligodi MBANDAKA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - 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. 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 scepticism about the threat it poses.
By Patient Ligodi
MBANDAKA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - 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.
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 scepticism about the threat it poses.
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."
The report came as another WHO official warned that the fight to stop Democratic Republic of Congo's ninth confirmed outbreak of Ebola had reached 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 control," WHO's emergency response chief, Peter Salama, said at the U.N. body's annual assembly. "We’re on the epidemiological knife edge of this response."
Health officials are particularly concerned by the disease's presence in Mbandaka, a crowded trading hub upstream from Kinshasa, a city of 10 million people. The river runs along the border with the Republic of Congo.
The WHO said health officials received an alert on Wednesday from Kinshasa's main hospital, but the health ministry said later that it was a false alarm.
The outbreak, first spotted near the town of Bikoro, about 100 km (60 miles) south of the city, is believed to have killed at least 27 people so far.
The WHO said health workers were following up on three separate transmission chains for cases in Mbandaka's Wangata neighbourhood - one linked to a funeral, one to a church and another to a rural health facility.
"It’s really the detective work of epidemiology that will make or break the response to this outbreak," Salama said.
The disease was first discovered in Congo in the 1970s. It is spread through direct contact with body fluids from an infected person, who suffers severe bouts of vomiting and diarrhoea.
More than 11,300 people died in an Ebola outbreak in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone between 2013 and 2016.
(Additional reporting by Tom Miles and Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in Geneva and Aaron Ross in Dakar, writing by Joe Bavier and Aaron Ross; editing by Janet Lawrence and Larry King)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.
By Robin Emmott and John Irish | BRUSSELS/PARIS BRUSSELS/PARIS France and Germany will agree to a U.S. plan for NATO to take a bigger role in the fight against Islamic militants at a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday, but insist the move is purely symbolic, four senior European diplomats said.The decision to allow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq follows weeks of pressure on the two allies, who are wary of NATO confronting Russia in Syria and of alienating Arab countries who see NATO as pushing a pro-Western agenda."NATO as an institution will join the coalition," said one senior diplomat involved in the discussions. "The question is whether this just a symbolic gesture to the United States
BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called for greater efforts to make the country's navy a world class one, strong in operations on, below and above the surface, as it steps up its ability to project power far from its shores.China's navy has taken an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and a new aircraft carrier launched last month.With President Donald Trump promising a US shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.Inspecting navy headquarters, Xi said the navy should "aim for the top ranks in the world", the Defence Ministry said in a statement about his visit."Building a strong and modern navy is an important mark of a top ranking global military," the ministry paraphrased Xi as saying.