After denying that any of the suspected Ebola patients being held in a Liberian health center were missing, the Liberian government now has confirmed that 17 patients are unaccounted for after an attack on the health center.
The health center, which functioned as a quarantine center, is located in the very populous West Point township of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. The attack on the West Point center occurred after protests, though source disagree on the root cause of the initial unrest.
Public Awareness NeededSome allege that the protestors were upset that those in the quarantine were going to be moved from the West Point Center to other parts of Monrovia. Others portray the protestors as more extreme and say that they were angry because they didn’t think Ebola was real and acted to shut down the center altogether.
This supposed disbelief in the virus speaks to a larger problem in Liberia. Lindis Hurum, who works for the Medecins Sans Frontieres, told the BBC that there is a big need for a public awareness campaign in the country.
Some people don’t believe that it exists. Definitely, as the situation is getting worse and more people are getting sick, more people also start to believe it,” she said. “But they don’t necessarily understand or know how they should prevent it.
Attack on the Quarantine Center
No matter what the initial cause of the protests were, the results of the subsequent attack were certainly disturbing. People stole mattresses, bedding and medical equipment, all of which were covered with blood. These possibly infected items, along of course with the missing patients, are all fueling fears that the Ebola virus will only spread more.
However, officials remain optimistic that the 17 missing patients will return to the quarantine center under their own free will. Since, according to the Liberia information Minister Lewis Brown, most of the people in the West Point center admitted themselves to be treated, chances are they will return. Brown believes the patients escaped the facility not because they wanted to leave at all costs, but because they were forced out by the vandals and looters who infiltrated the center.
How Bad Is It?
Regardless of their motives for leaving, the disappearance of the patients is certainly a great setback in the effort to contain the spread of the Ebola virus. The World Health Organization puts the death toll for this Ebola outbreak at 1,145 people. The epidemic began in Guinea way back in February, but has since made it way to West African countries.
The virus has no cure or vaccine, so doctors have to redo their best to mitigate the effects of the disease’s symptoms, like combating the dehydration from the diarrhea and vomiting Ebola causes.
Officials are still working to pinpoint where exactly it comes from. A leading candidate is the fruit bat. Fruit bats are known to carry the disease, but experts remain unsure if fruit bats, which are eaten as a delicacy in West Africa, are the actual root of the problem or merely carriers.