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Clinic Attacks, Missing Ebola Patient Make It 'Definitely a Given' Virus Will Spread

A man displays an Ebola information poster for residents in Mangina, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Aug 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)

The World Health Organization said less than $10 million of the necessary $148 million to control the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been pledged, while attacks on medical facilities and fleeing patients were all but ensuring that the deadly virus will spread.

In January, the WHO warned that containment of the second-largest outbreak of the virus in history could suffer disastrous setbacks if the security situation in the DRC continued to deteriorate.

The outbreak began on Aug. 1, days after the conclusion of another Ebola outbreak on the other side of the country in Équateur province.

There have been a total of 885 Ebola cases including 555 deaths. Cases have been reported the most in females ages 15 to 49.

Doctors Without Borders announced Thursday that it “put on stand-by” operations in Katwa and Butembo after “unidentified assailants set some of the compound’s facilities and vehicles on fire” at an Ebola treatment center in Butembo on Wednesday night. Fifty-seven patients were at the center at the time; 15 of those were confirmed to have Ebola.

The Katwa clinic was attacked Sunday; one patient’s caretaker died while fleeing.

“We are extremely saddened by these attacks on our medical facilities. Not only did they endanger the lives of our staff members, they also endangered the most vulnerable people at the heart of our response: the patients,” said MSF emergency desk manager Hugues Robert. “In light of these two violent incidents, we have no choice but to suspend our activities until further notice. As medical responders, it is very painful to have to leave behind patients, their families and other members of the community at such a critical time in the Ebola response.”

WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said in Geneva today that the world body was “doing everything and talking with everyone” to try to keep the Ebola clinics operational and ensuring “that everything can be done to get this outbreak under control” including adequate security.

Lindmeier said that with the “deteriorating” situation there is “a likelihood of an increase of Ebola cases — that is definitely a given.”

He confirmed that four patients fled from the Butembo facility during the attack and three had voluntarily returned to continue treatment.

“It’s a very understandable reaction that under fire you try to save your own life more than anything,” he said. “Three have already voluntarily returned, that’s also important to note — they understand how important it is — and the fourth for whatever reason hasn’t come back yet or hasn’t been traced yet.”

The WHO also has to trace everyone who came into contact with the missing patient, he added, a process hampered by “ongoing rumors in the communities that the Ebola virus doesn’t even exist.”