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Medical Experts Will Return to Gabon - 2002-01-11

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies reports that a team of international medical experts will return Saturday to a remote area of Gabon struck by the Ebola virus.

The experts left the area after a spat with the local population. The World Health Organization confirms 34 people infected with Ebola in Gabon and the neighboring Republic of Congo, 25 of whom have died.

Red Cross spokesman, Denis McClean has said medical experts will be going back to battle the Ebola virus in northeastern Gabon. Seventeen experts were forced to withdraw from Mekambo on Tuesday because of fears for their safety. Mr. McClean said it took coordinated efforts by Red Cross, Gabonese and other officials to mediate the dispute.

"The latest news we have is that the international medical team is now going to return to the Ebola affected area in Mekambo tomorrow, Saturday. This news has just come in from our field office in Gabon and we are hoping they will be able to resume normal activities to contain the epidemic," he said.

The international medical experts and Gabonese officials were forced to pull out of Mekambo in the face of verbal attacks, threats and intimidation from the local community.

On Thursday, two representatives from the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders accompanied by several local officials went to Mekambo to try to resolve the problems. Mr. McClean said Red Cross delegates have been negotiating with village elders since the experts left.

The Red Cross has a team of 100 specially trained volunteers on the spot. Mr. McClean said the volunteers come from Gabonese communities infected with Ebola and are well regarded. He said the issue is local people resent what they see as interference by the medical experts to stop them from practicing their traditional burial rites.

"The main issue is getting the local population to understand that traditional practices around the burial of the dead have to be adjusted to take into account that these corpses are extremely infectious and they need to be handled very carefully in order to avoid people contracting the epidemic the virus - themselves," he said.

Before the international medical experts left, they had been monitoring nearly 250 people in Gabon and Congo who may have had contact with Ebola victims.

Mr. McClean said there is a serious risk that the epidemic could spread without the presence of the experts who know what to do to try to contain the disease.