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Ebola shrouds Zairean hospital in terror


of Reuters

Kikwit - Dr Mungala Kipasa's smiling face showed no trace of the agony of seeing many of his hospital's best staff wiped out by the Ebola virus spreading death in western Zaire.

"This is the village of the dead," he told the Health Minister, Mbumb Mussong, who is inspecting the ravages of the epidemic which began with the death of a laboratory worker in Kikwit general hospital in April and spread into the local population.

"Over here is the nurses' village," Dr Kipasa said, gesturing over rows of fresh graves marked with crude wooden crosses.

The minister and his party follow Dr Kipasa through the graveyard. They stop by a grave where the latest victim, a doctor, was buried a few hours earlier.

Members of the official party, including representatives of the embassies of the United States, France and Belgium, bow their heads in silence.

Dr Kipasa is director of the Kikwit hospital which has become a symbol of death, scaring away local people - even as international and Zairean experts say the virus has reached a critical phase after breaking out into the local population.

As he spoke an open truck brings in the body of an Ebola victim from a nearby village. Next to it was a man dying of the disease. Hospital workers in protective gear lift his almost lifeless body and lower it on to a stretcher for examination.

"People used to say, well, we don't care because this is a disease among medical people. Now they realise it's not only doctors and nurses that are dying but it is everybody's business," said Dr Kipasa, a 42-year- old Zairean who specialised in epidemiology in New Orleans.

The 326-bed hospital, the best in the region, is practically closed, as volunteer staff and international experts are preoccupied mainly with observing those in quarantine.

"The hospital has closed, the patients have fled," said a student who lives near by. "Many people who come here die because of trauma. They are brought into a ward and the first thing they see is a dead body in the next bed."

There have been 114 cases of the virus, which has killed 79 people so far.

Residents in Kikwit say people have come to associate the hospital with death and are refusing to take sick people there.

A woman who called herself Citizen Mbayoko stood waiting for news of her mother, brought in earlier. "It's the haemorrhagic fever. There are people dying at home. There are families who have lost two or three people. Please do something to help us," she pleaded.

She smiles as departing journalists hand her their protective gloves.

n London - French scientists reported in the Lancet that they had found a new strain of the Ebola virus. Dr Bernard Le Guenno and colleagues at the Pasteur Institute said the new strain, found among chimpanzees in Ivory Coast, could help reveal where the virus comes from.