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Video Shows Liberian Ebola Patient Escaping a Treatment Center

Footage shot by witnesses shows bystanders fleeing from the patient as he meanders through a market in Monrovia.

by Kayla Ruble
Sep 3 2014, 10:30pm

Photo via Flickr/European Commission

As the number of deaths piles up in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, surpassing more than 1,900 people this week, keeping patients quarantined has continued to be a problem. This issue was most recently highlighted in a video that shows an Ebola patient escaping from a quarantine center in Liberia on Monday.

In an eerie scene, the patient is seen wandering into a market in Monrovia, reportedly looking for food. Videos shot by witnesses show market-goers keeping a noticeable distance and fleeing from the patient as he meanders through the streets. One of the bystanders remarks on the lack of food for Ebola patients, while another man complains of the treatment center in the vicinity, according to a New York Times translation.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) staff are seen suited up in yellow personal protection suits following the man, eventually corralling and forcing him into the back of a truck to be taken back to the center. Onlookers erupt in cheers as they drive off.

"This was an incident that we've seen, patients have ran away from hospitals in other centers before," Brice de le Vingne, an operational director at MSF who was on the ground in West Africa in August, told VICE News. He noted that this case escalated and required action as the crowd started to be very aggressive, saying "the outbreak is totally out of control." "We are overstretched, it's difficult to run a center that doesn't have good capacity to take care of all the cases," he said, regarding how scenarios like this occur.

The spread of the Ebola virus is officially an international emergency. Read more here.

The patient outbreak incident comes just one day after nurses went on strike at the largest hospital in Liberia over lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).

"From the beginning of the Ebola outbreak we have not had any protective equipment to work with. As result, so many doctors got infected by the virus. We have to stay home until we get the PPEs," said John Tugbeh, the spokesperson at John F. Kennedy hospital in Monrovia.

The lack of PPE at hospitals in the region has been an issue since the outbreak first took hold in Guinea in March, evidenced by the number of healthcare officials who have been infected. Medical personnel have accounted for nearly 10 percent of the total deaths during the Ebola outbreak gripping Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, as well as Nigeria. A new case was recently confirmed in Senegal.

Liberia's medical sector has historically been plagued by labor disputes and threats of striking. Health workers throughout the country went on strike in the summer of 2013 over low wages, and threats reemerged this Spring just before Ebola began to spread.

When Liberia began experiencing a second wave of Ebola infections in June, local journalist Alaska Moore Johnson told VICE News that a healthcare worker strike was one of the main challenges the country would face in tackling Ebola, as underpaid and underprotected workers were already expressing discontent. He noted that the strike would have a grave effect on the situation.

"The situation is bad, and it's gonna be a worse case if they go on strike," Moore said.

According to de le Vingne, health care workers are truly on the front lines of the outbreak. He stressed that they need to have protective gear, as well as training, but that officials should be relying on trained experts to handle the situation instead. 

"You cannot boost an entire health system in two weeks, we need the staff of Liberia to give medical treatment to the population still, but with the epidemic they aren't able to do anything," he said. "We need professionals able to deploy activities on the ground."

Bushmeat in the time of Ebola. Watch here.

Providing PPE to medical staff has been an ongoing focus of groups like the WHO and MSF. In an Ebola response road map outlined by WHO on August 28, the organization noted that the scale up in the virus outbreak and increasing preparedness efforts would "make a substantial additional demand on supplies of PPE." The UN organization said it would scale up efforts to provide these materials, while working with the World Food Program to get materials distributed.

During Wednesday's WHO press conference, Assistant Director-General Dr. Keiji Fukuda noted that beyond PPE, there was a lack of vehicles, funds, and good practices in regards to the Ebola response. He said in some cases there were not enough beds for ill patients or even enough ambulances to transport people. In Monrovia alone, De le Vingne said is 1,000 beds are needed in order to help fight the outbreak, but MSF is only able to provide 200. He said people are dying in front of their hospitals because they don't have the capacity to treat them.

And the hospital worker strike in Liberia likely only adds to what Fukuda said was the main challenge: a shortage of health officials. 

"We don't have enough people on the ground," Fukuda said, referring to a range of players including nurses, doctors, drivers, and contact tracing teams.

This personnel shortage was highlighted by MSF on Tuesday, with the organization calling for both civilian and military medical teams to be deployed for fighting the outbreak. MSF's president Joanne Liu told UN members they had "essentially joined a global coalition of inaction," and were "failing to come to grips with this transnational threat." She said treatment centers had been "reduced to places where people go to die alone."

According to de le Vingne, MSF is the only organization capable to provide isolation centers and they're "overstretched."

"For more than five months, we can say, we are screaming, a number of times we have raised our voices," he said. "We've reached a point where we need commitment from states. It's better to act now when we're already late than to wait and act again."

How aid workers are tracking the unprecedented Ebola outbreak. Read more here.

At the same UN event on Tuesday, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said efforts to thwart the disease have been a "disastrously inadequate." The WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan echoed these statements on Wednesday, telling press that the outbreak is racing ahead of control measures.

Chan was seemingly optimistic about response efforts in Nigeria. The relatively small and seemingly contained outbreak, she said, was almost entirely linked to a Liberian man who flew into the country while infected and later died. Additionally, Chan said Senegal had mounted a strong response, especially in the realm of contact tracing, with only one infection currently — imported from Guinea.

While concerns have risen in recent weeks as Ebola has appeared in Central African countries of the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, Chan stressed that virological analysis had clearly demonstrated that this is an independent outbreak. According to a report from a laboratory in Gabon, the virus in the DRC was "definitely not derived from the virus strain currently circulating in west Africa."

WHO will convene another meeting on Thursday and Friday with members of hte scientific community to look at the most promising experimental treatments and vaccines. She said they will look at how to fast track these treatments.

"Ebola is not a new disease, we know what to do and how to do it," she said, saying they need a coordinated global response, but that the outbreak will be brought "under control."

Follow Kayla Ruble on Twitter: @RubleKB

Photo via Flickr/European Commission