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Fear and suspicion impede the Congo's doctors in the Ebola fight



DAKAR (Reuters) – With more than twice as many Ebola outbreaks as any other country since the discovery of the virus in 1976, the Congolese are familiar with their destructive power, but the fear and suspicion of medical authorities is still hampering the containment.

Children Attend a Class Session in Wangata Municipality During a Vaccination Campaign Against the Ebola Outbreak in Mbandaka

Health officials say they are working hard to obtain accurate information on the fatal hemorrhagic fever, but are facing considerable mistrust Part of Africa, where many have more faith in clerics in white collars than doctors in white coats.

A doctor and nurse sister were threatened by locals after being accused of bringing the disease to their communities, while people in a city prevented doctors from testing the body of a suspect who had died of Ebola.

"The information campaign is underway, but it is still not enough," said Jean-Clement Cabrol, MSF's medical coordinator, on Thursday in Geneva.

"Religious and traditional leaders in communities are not being used enough," he said.

The Congo Government, the World Health Organization (WHO) and aid agencies are trying to stem the most dangerous of the DRC's nine epidemics since it was discovered four decades ago by the Congo River of the same name.

Emerging in the northwestern river port city of Mbandaka, this time it is possible to explore the capital Kinshasa, a chaotic city with more than 1

0 million inhabitants downstream. Since April, the disease is said to have killed at least 22 people and infected another 30.

Most of the Reuters reporters they spoke with in Mbandaka this week said they were pleased with the authorities' energetic response. Nevertheless, there are rumors about the true origin of the outbreak.

"Our grandparents lived in Mbandaka for a long time and they have never experienced it," said a merchant named Yvonne. "That's magic."

"We prayed for them"

In one of the most alarming developments in this outbreak, family members of two Ebola patients have taken them out of the hospital on Monday night from an isolation ward in Mbandaka before putting them on the back of motorcycles ,

One was taken to a nearby evangelical church, according to health officials and a source in the church, where she – now vomiting and unable to walk – prayed with 19 other people in a narrow, tin-roofed building.

She returned to the hospital before succumbing to the disease the next night. The other patient was brought home, where he died a few hours later. The health officials had to locate their contacts in the 1.5 million city.

A witness in the church who refused to be named said that the woman had come to testify that God had healed her from her illness.

"We prayed for her," he said just before she died. Later, health officials came to the church to vaccinate several people who were in contact with her.

When Ebola killed more than 11,000 people in West African countries Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2013 and 2014, the suspicion of health workers in their spacesuit-like protective gear also prompted patients to flee and hastened the spread of the disease.

Health professionals need to embark on a delicate balance: they must limit the movements of Ebola patients without, however, combating communities whose cooperation is crucial.

It would be impractical and counterproductive to force security guards who are not equipped with protective equipment to withcibly detain patients, said Nahid Bhadelia, medical director of the Special Pathogen Department at Boston University Medical Center, who worked in a hospital Ebola treatment unit in Sierra Leone during the 2014-2016 outbreak.

"If you do something violent, you would create greater distrust."

She said officials should focus on alleviating anxiety, including bringing social workers and spiritual leaders to hospitals to teach patients about a protective barrier.

MSF, which runs the treatment center in the Wangata district of Mbandaka, where patients have fled, said keeping patients against their will would only increase the mistrust of health workers.

"Withdrawal is not the answer to this epidemic, patient adherence is paramount," MSF said in a statement. "The faster patients are admitted, the greater their chances of survival and … the spread of Ebola."

Additional Reports by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Patient Ligodi and Benoit Nyemba in Mbandaka; Arrangement of Tim Cocks and Giles Elgood


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