BENI, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – An Ebola flare-up in eastern Congo may spread again after a patient escaped from a clinic, complicating efforts to contain the disease that has infected six people since last week, the World Health Organization said on Sunday.
The Democratic Republic of Congo was two days away from declaring the end of the world’s second-largest Ebola epidemic when a new chain of infection was discovered on April 10, following more than seven weeks without a new case.
Since then, health authorities have sought to contain any renewed spread of infections.
But on Friday a 28-year-old motorbike taxi-driver who had tested positive for Ebola ran away from the centre where he was being treated in the town of Beni.
“We are using all the options to get him out of the community,” said Boubacar Diallo, deputy incident manager for the WHO’s Ebola response operation. “We are expecting secondary cases from him.”
Decades of conflict and poor governance have eroded public trust in authorities in Congo. Despite Ebola having killed more than 2,200 people since August 2018, research shows that many communities believe the disease is not real.
Small outbreaks are common towards the end of an epidemic, but healthworkers need to ensure the virus is contained by tracking, quarantining and vaccinating the contacts of new cases.
“We do not have any details yet. All have been working with the authorities, youths and civil society to find him. Search is ongoing,” Diallo said by WhatsApp message.
A 15-year-old girl also tested positive for the virus on Friday, Diallo said, taking the total number of confirmed new cases since the flare-up to six.
Beni’s deputy mayor Muhindo Bakwanamaha said the local authorities have not so far been able to track down the escaped patient. “Since he is out of treatment he will die, and create a lot of contacts around him,” he said.
Two new vaccines have had a major impact in containing Ebola, but militia attacks have prevented health workers from reaching some areas hit by the virus.
Congo’s battered health system is simultaneously fighting measles and cholera epidemics, as well as the global coronavirus pandemic. The country has recorded 327 cases of COVID-19 and 25 deaths.
(Reporting by Erikas Mwisi Kambale in Beni and Hereward Holland; Editing by Hugh Lawson)