One of the patients died at home, and his body was returned to the hospital for safe burial with the help of MSF teams, while the second came back to the facility Tuesday but died later that night, Slater said.
A third patient who left the facility Sunday night was about to be discharged, she said.
“In all three cases every effort was made by staff at the hospital to convince the patients — and their families — not to leave and to continue their treatment,” Slater said.
“However, forced hospitalization is not the solution to this epidemic. Patient adherence is paramount.”
It’s unclear how many people the patients came into contact with in Mbandaka, a city of more than 1 million. The relatives who helped them may also be at risk.
A spread of the disease in the crowded city would be catastrophic. As a major trading hub on the Congo River, Mbandaka has direct access to neighboring nations and the capital of Kinshasa by road, water and air.
An effort is underway to find out everyone who came into contact with the patients once they left, said Tarik Jasarevic, a World Health Organization spokesman.
“It is unfortunate but not unexpected. It is normal for people to want their loved ones to be at home during what could be the last moments of life,” Jasarevic said.
“We are working with local community leaders, traditional leaders and healers, and religious leaders to better engage with communities so that we understand each other better and can work together in stopping the outbreak.”
Medical and health promotion teams are working to explain the symptoms of Ebola to the local population, Slater said.
More than 20 deaths in latest outbreak
The virus has killed at least 22 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo since an outbreak started May 8, the country’s Ministry of Public Health said Wednesday, revising an earlier death toll.