Since the Ebola outbreak that began in January, 86 people have died in Guinea alone, while the disease is spreading into other regions and hundreds more are infected with this deadly virus.
The deaths and dreaded illness have people frightened, angry and distraught – they’ve lost loved ones and have been isolated, while the disease continues to spread.
Perhaps that could explain why an angry mob attacked health workers at a center where victims were being held in isolation, prompting an international aid group to temporarily evacuate its team, officials said Saturday.
The angry crowd accused the staff of bringing the deadly disease to the town, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) or (Doctors Without Borders) said, as Mali identified its first suspected cases.
The medical charity has warned that this virus could turn into an unprecedented epidemic in such an impoverished region with extremely poor health services.
What is problematic is that there were many people who went undiagnosed while health agencies spent time trying to confirm the virus as Ebola hemorrhagic fever. This is the first time this deadly disease broke in an area that was not an isolated section of Africa.
News of the outbreak has sent shockwaves through communities with little knowledge of the disease or how it is transmitted, and the suspected cases in Mali have added to fears that it is spreading in West Africa.
The attacks on health workers occurred in the southern town of Macenta, where at least 14 people have died since the outbreak emerged last month.
Some young people threw rocks at the aid workers, though no one was seriously hurt, said Sam Taylor, a spokesman for Doctors Without Borders.
“We understand very well that people are afraid because it is a new disease here,” Taylor said. “But these are not favorable working conditions so we are suspending our activities.”
Patients are continuing to receive treatment from Guinean health ministry personnel, Taylor said.
Guinea’s government immediately condemned the attack in a statement, saying that Doctors Without Borders and other international aid groups are they key to stopping the spread of Ebola.
“The international community has rapidly mobilized to help us in these difficult moments with considerable medical support and specialists on the ground at the disease’s epicenter,” the statement said. “That’s why the government is calling on people to stay calm and allow our partners to help us eradicate this epidemic.”
Although some have survived, there is no cure for Ebola. It causes fever, severe bleeding and usually 90 percent of infected patients die.
And some patients are held for observation, and then transferred to another area if they are confirmed to have Ebola, which is the process that caused the attack.
There appears to be confusion about the process in transferring patients to isolation. Resident Kolie Martin accused doctors of transferring patients to the isolation ward who had not tested positive for Ebola.
“As soon as someone is brought here, they don’t try to figure out whether he is sick or not, they just transfer him directly to the sick ward. So it’s them who are killing the people who are in good health,” Martin said.
However, the process is necessary to keep people who could be harboring the virus in isolation, to eliminate further spreading of the disease.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that Ebola is carried by fruit bats living in West Africa. They emphasize it can only be spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of someone who is infected. But that hasn’t stopped fear and misinformation from spreading.
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