Two die of Ebola in DR Congo after escaping quarantine centre

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MBANDAKA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Three patients infected with the Ebola virus slipped out of an isolation ward at a hospital in Democratic Republic of Congo, health officials said, as medics raced to stop the deadly disease from spreading in the busy river port of Mbandaka.

The third patient was found alive and is now under observation by MSF and the World Health Organization, Henri Gray said.

Another left on Saturday, but was found alive the same day and is now under observation, Gray added. It's not a prison. "The next few weeks will really tell if this outbreak is going to expand to urban areas or if we are going to be able to keep it under control".

"We're on the epidemiological knife edge of this response", he added at the United Nations body's annual assembly.

Downstream from Mbandaka is the country's capital, Kinshasa, which is home to roughly 10 million people. Meanwhile, the WHO is also consulting various health organizations about the use of additional experimental drugs, including antibody and antiviral treatments, for people who have already been infected, Nature reports.

Salama said the outbreak has three or four epicentres, making containment more challenging.

The WHO has ruled that the outbreak is not yet a global health emergency but nine neighbouring countries are on high alert.

Outbreak responders faced similar challenges in West Africa's outbreak, and the World Health Organization has said anthropology experts to help navigate local beliefs and customs were among the first wave of experts to arrive in the DRC outbreak location.

The next level of concern is for countries that border the DRC but don't have direct links to the epicenter of the outbreak: Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia.

The escapes unfortunately are not surprising, said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician with Toronto's University Health Network who treats tropical diseases.

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"The commitment of the patient" to being quarantined "is fundamental", it said, highlighting the need for public awareness on how to halt the outbreak.

"Religious and traditional leaders in communities are not being used enough", he said.

"But it still can be quite a frightening situation and unfortunately it's not uncommon for people to run away".

"We hear people having doubts and worries about the epidemic", Jose Barahona, Oxfam's country director in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said.

"We're really just at the beginning".

But lack of trust between patients and doctors is often the reason those sick with Ebola would attempt to evade treatment, which can be intimidating when it involves isolating them from their families and only interacting with medical professionals dressed in hazmat suits.

"We haven't even done the Phase 1 yet", Fauci told Reuters, but added that he was "happy to do it", as long at the trial is done in collaboration with WHO.

Radio broadcasts have also been telling Congo residents that the disease is "incurable" due to "witchcraft".

When Ebola hit West Africa in 2014, some of the obstacles that impeded the medical response included lack of trust among communities dealing with outbreaks and religious practices - such as washing the body of the dead - that spread the disease, which is contagious through bodily fluids.

Although the vaccine, provided by the USA pharmaceutical company Merck, is still in the test stages, it proved effective in the last Ebola outbreak in the West African nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia that resulted in the deaths of more than 11,000 people.

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