How Ebola suspects escaped isolation in Mubende, Kasese

Ugandan Medical staff members assemble beds to be used in the Ebola treatment Isolation Unit at Mubende regional referral hospital in Uganda on September 24, 2022. PHOTO/AFP

What you need to know:

  • Health officials say the group took advantage of the limited security at the health facilities.

The Health ministry has expressed worry over the failure of the Ebola response team to find a patient who escaped from the Mubende hospital isolation facility on September 23.

In an interview with Monitor yesterday, Dr Henry Mwebesa,  the director general of Health Services at the ministry, said: “Of the [seven] suspected cases who escaped, some of them tested negative but the [one] who tested positive has not yet been found. That is still our worry.”  

Sources within Mubende hospital told this publication that the patient, a resident of Madudu Sub-county in Mubende District, “took advantage of the security gaps at the hospital” to escape. 

Ms Rosemary Byabashaija, the Mubende Resident District Commissioner (RDC) who is heading the district taskforce, said the plan to escape was hatched on September 23 .

“It is possible that the suspects were not very weak and could walk without help. They moved out separately taking different directions after going through the hospital gate undetected,” she said.

On Tuesday last week, the government confirmed the outbreak of Ebola in the country. However, many health facilities, including Mubende hospital, were not prepared for it.

Sources within the hospital said the security at the isolation centre and the entire hospital was still relaxed by the time the outbreak was announced.

“I believe that the suspects took time to study the environment and find a way to escape,” the RDC said.
Dr Paul Batiibwe, the director of Mubende hospital, said the security at the facility has since been tightened.

There have been several reasons that the public has given to explain the escape of the suspected Ebola patients.

Some leaders in Mubende said the group decided to seek alternative treatments.

Mr Happy Cleophas, the Lubimbiri Sub-county councillor, said the suspects could have decided to escape and try the local herbalists.

“Many believe that Ebola could be a disease like many other diseases treated using different means including prayer,” he said in an interview. The deaths from the disease have been rising. 
“There are 31 confirmed cases and six confirmed deaths,” Dr Mwebesa said. 

These figures do not include those who are reported to have experienced Ebola-like symptoms and died but were not tested. Some of the deceased were buried before the outbreak was announced.

The issue of escaping from isolation is not unique to Mubende hospital. The Kasese District Ebola taskforce is also searching for an Ebola suspect who escaped from the isolation centre at Rukoki Health Centre on Wednesday morning. 

In an interview on Wednesday, Mr Stephen Bagonza, the assistant District Health Officer, said the Ebola suspect escaped after the health workers took his samples for testing. 

He added that another suspected Ebola patient is still in isolation. 
“We suspect the two suspects travelled from Mubende and Kyegegwa districts on Tuesday where most cases of Ebola have been registered,” he said.

He said the two presented signs and symptoms similar to those of Ebola but they are still waiting for results from their blood samples. 

Mr Bagonza added that the missing suspect is believed to be hiding in Kanyangeya and Saluti cells in Nyamwamba Division, Kasese Municipality. 

Danger in escaping from treatment centers 

Escaping from Ebola isolation or treatment centre increases the risk of dying of the disease, transmitting it to our loved ones and the public. This in turn prolongs the fight against the outbreak and increases related deaths and disruptions to livelihood. 

When detected and treated early, the risk of dying from Ebola is significantly reduced because the Ugandan doctors are some of the most experienced in the continent when it comes to treating Ebola.

Ebola is a known virus. It is not witchcraft as assumed by some people. Religious and cultural practitioners should make the public understand that use of approved medicines and following instructions of health workers are essential in the fight against the disease. 

Compiled by Dan Wandera, Barbra Nalweyiso, Tonny Abet & Joel Kaguta

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