, MONROVIA, Aug 19 – Liberia was desperately searching for 17 Ebola patients Monday who fled an attack on a quarantine centre in the capital Monrovia, as the outbreak appeared to overwhelm authorities in west Africa’s worst-hit nation.
Searches of the teeming West Point slum have so far failed to turn up any of the missing victims as neighbouring Guinea said a wave of sick Liberians had begun crossing the border, which it had officially closed 10 days ago.
Club-wielding youths raided a medical facility set up in a high school in the dense-populated Monrovia slum on Saturday, some shouting “there’s no Ebola”, echoing wild rumours that the epidemic had been made up by the West.
Officials are considering sealing off the area – home to 75,000 people – to stop the nightmare scenario of people with the highly contagious disease wandering the city where unburied corpses have lain abandoned in the streets.
Information Minister Lewis Brown said: “All those hooligans who looted the centre are now probable carriers of the disease…. They took mattresses and bedding that were soaked with fluids from the patients. To quarantine the area could be one of the solutions.
“We run the risk of facing a difficult-to-control situation,” he warned.
Community leaders, however, said the patients have long gone.
Wilmont Johnson, head of a youth association in West Point which organised a search for the patients, told journalists Monday that “those who saw them passing told us that they have gone into other communities”.
The head of the Health Workers Association of Liberia, George Williams, said of the 29 patients in the raided unit “all had tested positive for Ebola” and were receiving preliminary treatment before being taken to hospital.
Fallah Boima, whose son Michel was among the patients who fled, told AFP: “I am afraid that he could die somewhere and I will not know.” READ: 29 patients flee attack on Monrovia Ebola ward.
Outside the capital in Caldwell, relatives of the dead criticised the government for the slowness of its response, claiming that bodies were being left uncollected there for days.
Sheikh Idrissa Swaray, the father of one victim, slammed the way the government was handling the crisis as “completely wrong”.
He said in one case a man had died and his wife, possibly infected herself, had run away.
“We don’t even know where the wife has gone and the body is still here. Three days now and the body has not been taken.”
Liberia already has the highest death toll in the epidemic, which has killed at least 1,145 people across west Africa since the start of the year. Its toll of 413 dead last week overtook that of Sierra Leone and Guinea where the outbreak began, despite a state of emergency being declared.