Liberia's president says anyone caught hiding suspected Ebola patients will be prosecuted, part of official efforts to curtail a new epidemic of the deadly virus that has hit three west African nations this year.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf issued the warning on state radio Monday, expressing concern that some patients had been kept in homes and churches instead of receiving medical attention.
Sierra Leone issued a similar warning last week, saying some patients had discharged themselves from hospital and gone into hiding.
Health workers elsewhere in the region have encountered hostility and some have even been attacked. People affected by the disease in Sierra Leone told Reuters that rumors are circulating there that doctors were removing limbs of Ebola victims before burying them. Others prefer traditional remedies and the comfort of home to sterile, foreign hospital environments in what are often the victim’s final hours.
Sierra Leone officials have banned traditional funerals and the bodies of Ebola victims must now be buried by health workers clad in green protective suits and face masks. It appeared some affected families there had kept their relatives at home in order to be able to offer them a traditional burial.
Liberia's health ministry said Monday the country had recorded 49 deaths caused by Ebola, 26 of which were confirmed by laboratory tests.
The outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia — which has killed 367 people so far, according to the World Health Organization — has left some of the world's poorest nations, with porous borders and weak health systems undermined by war and misrule, grappling with one of the most lethal and contagious diseases on the planet.
Most deaths have been in Guinea where cases were first reported.
Ebola causes fever, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhea, and kills a high percentage of those it infects. Highly contagious, it is transmitted through contact with the blood or other fluids of infected people or animals.
A study published in U.S. medical journal The New England Journal of Medicine in April showed that the Ebola outbreak was from a new strain, not one imported from countries that have had epidemics in the past.
Al Jazeera and wire services