LIBREVILLE, Gabon – International medical experts agreed Sunday to return to a remote Gabonese town struck by the deadly Ebola disease after the government promised to address their safety concerns, officials said.
The 17-member team and representatives of Gabon's Health Ministry left the northeastern jungle town of Mekambo on Tuesday because of threats from local inhabitants who blame outsiders for many of their problems.
The Ebola outbreak has claimed 25 lives in the Central African nations of Gabon and neighboring Republic of Congo.
Team representatives met over the weekend with a government crisis committee in the capital, Libreville.
Government officials, traditional leaders and others would be meeting with local villagers in the coming days, a member of the crisis team said on condition of anonymity. Fresh troops were also being deployed to relieve the soldiers already enforcing a security cordon around the province.
World Health Organization officials said the team expected to return to Mekambo within days. It includes experts from WHO, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Gabonese Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontieres, known in English as Doctors Without Borders.
Tension has been running high in Mekambo and surrounding villages, where many blame outsiders for the difficulties they have had since the outbreak began in October.
Villagers say they can no longer sell their bush meat and crops, their only sources of income. Those who have had contact with the victims also resent being confined to their villages for 21 days of medical observation to make sure they don't come down with the disease.
Since the medical experts withdrew to the provincial capital, Makokou, they have been unable to monitor more than 200 people who were believed to have had contact with known Ebola sufferers — a vital part of efforts to contain the disease.
At least two people who had been under observation at Mekambo's medical center left during this period, said Andre Neacsu, spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Geneva. The two were traced to Libreville, where they were again placed under medical observation.
"It shows how dangerous the situation remains," Neacsu said.
So far, 21 cases and 18 fatalities have been confirmed in Gabon, and 13 cases and seven fatalities in Republic of Congo.
Ebola is one of the most deadly viral diseases and kills between 50 and 90 percent of those who contract it. It spreads through bodily fluids — though not the air — and attacks internal organs, causing bloody diarrhea and vomiting.