Suspected Malawi Ebola case: Two shun scanning, causes panic in Karonga

Two refugees from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who were suspected of having Ebola signs  at Malawi’s Songwe boarder in Karonga district have run away after health officials isolated them to be scanned to confirm the disease they were suffering from before entering the country.

Health officials at Songwe boarder confirmed to Nyasa Times having quarantined two people from DRC which they were suspecting of the Ebola signs on Monday but failed to do the scanning because of lack medical machines to do so.

“It was in the morning hours when immigration officials here referred to us four refugees from the DRC. They suspected two of them having some signs a strange disease but we didn’t scan them because the machines were not readily available so we just isolated them,” said a medical doctor who opted for anonymity on professional grounds.

A doctor displays collected samples of the Ebola virus
A doctor displays collected samples of the Ebola virus

He said as they were waiting for the machine from the District Health Officer (DHO) the patients started complaining of hunger, saying they have stayed without food for so long.

“We bought food for them while waiting for the DHO who came around 7 pm. When we went to the room we put them we did not find them and until today we don’t know where they have gone,” he said.

District Officer in Charge of Immigration Henry Mphadzula confirmed having referred two cases to medical officials at Songwe for scanning.

“Indeed the refugees come here at immigration before the United Nation High Commissioner Refugee (UNHCR) Officials here refer them to Dzaleka refugee camp. Our immigration officers at Songwe noticed signs of a strange illness in two people who were looking very weak. So they handed them to health officials for scanning but until now they haven’t referred to us back,” he said.

United  Nation High Commission for Refugee transit shelter Administrator for the district Msanje Ng’oma said he don’t know where they are.

“I was at Songwe by that time but the refugees were in hands of health personnel so I don’t know where these people are and up to now I don’t have information on the issue,” he said.

The District Healthy Officer Charles Sungani confirmed that the suspect have run away but blamed the immigration officers for the escape.

“I was told by officials at Songwe that they need scanning machines because they suspected some refugees from DRC  having strange signs but when I reached there the suspects were no where to be seen,” said Sungani.

He said investigations have revealed that those people are not from DRC but from Burundi “and also I am told that the immigration officials are the ones who were accusing health officials of  delaying the suspects, so we don’t know where they have gone.”

Commenting on the issue human rights activist Gracian Mbewe Coordinator of Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) said government is not serious on Ebola issue in Malawi.

“I have also heard that the security people are not aware where these people are which is a every big concern to us because the healthy personnel said they suspected the people having signs of Ebola but those people have run away obviously they are within our community,” said Mbewe.

Mbewe said the organization is surprised that no effort is being made to look for the suspected Ebola patients a development he says clearly shows that government is not serious on the issue.”

Executive Director of Foundation for Community Support Services Cossam Munthali has called for immediate closure of the refugee transit shelter in Malawi.

“Running away of these people shows that we don’t have people who have the welfare of poor Malawians and that government is not ready, they don’t have the capacity to deal with Ebola issue here in Malawi, the best thing is to just close the transit shelter which is here in Karonga and suspend Dzaleka Camp for now because these people are saying they are going to Dzaleka but ending up running away,” said Munthali.

The medical officials from Songwe also confirmed that they were not scanning people all along until the DHO brought them the machines on Tuesday.

“We were not scanning all along but we wanted to start on these two people and we are also not trained on how to use the machines,” said the medical worker.

Mphadzula told Nyasa Times that they have received 247 refugees from DRC in August alone waiting to be referred to Dzaleka refugee camp.

The ebola virus causes symptoms that can be initially similar to those of malaria, including a fever. It is fatal in up to 90% of cases.

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