More than a dozen Ebola patients are still unaccounted for after a violent attack on a Liberian Ebola treatment center Saturday, authorities say, raising fears that the virus will find a new stronghold in the country’s largest slum.
Conflicting reports suggested that anywhere from 29 to 37 patients fled an isolation unit in the Liberian capital of Monrovia Saturday night when an angry mob descended upon the facility. But George Williams, the head of the Health Workers Association of Liberia, has confirmed that, however many had initially escaped, authorities are still looking for 17.
The health center was in West Point, a Monrovia township of 50,000. The BBC reports that the attackers might have been angry that the patients came from other parts of the city. Witnesses claim that the mob then looted the facility, stealing medical equipment, food and blood-stained mattresses and sheets.
Ebola is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, including blood. This latest outbreak has so far claimed the lives of 1,145 West Africans, including more than 400 Liberians and is the deadliest outbreak since the virus was discovered in 1976.
The disappearance of both the patients and the likely-infected bedding raises concerns that West Point, where distrust of government and health officials and foreign aid workers permeates, will soon become a hotbed of new Ebola cases.
“This is one of the stupidest things I have ever seen in my life,” a police officer requesting anonymity told the BBC, adding that he feared “the whole of West Point will be infected.”
The day before the attack, several hundred protesters chanted “No Ebola in West Point” as they forced away a burial team seeking to isolate the bodies of suspected Ebola victims. Health experts say this hostility toward government and outside aid is strong in the West African nations most impacted by Ebola and has posed a central challenge to controlling the outbreak.