Authorities in Guinea are alarmed that a cooler containing the contaminated blood of an Ebola victim has gone missing, after bandits robbed the public taxi in which the blood was being transported.
The Agence France-Presse reports that Guinea authorities only confirmed the disappearance of the blood samples on Monday, though reports began circulating of the theft as early as last week. The news from Guinea’s national law enforcement officers was not good– they do not believe they will ever find the blood samples.
“We are confident of not being able to find this cooler,” said Guinea Ebola response unit spokesperson Fode Tass Sylla upon announcing the theft on Monday. “With the media attention around the case, we are confident that the bandits would have got rid of it.” The AFP notes that Sylla claimed the Ebola virus would not live in that environment for long anyway, though studies have shown otherwise.
The government also told the press a particularly worrisome security fact: the government uses public transportation to ship Ebola blood samples, rather than any special shipping system to keep the samples safe. Hence, thieves attempting to get away with the contents of an average taxi cab have now found themselves with what amounts to a biological weapon if it reaches the wrong hands.
Guinea officials appear much more concerned that uneducated bandits in possession of Ebola blood will either touch the blood and contract the virus or somehow place others at risk of being exposed to it, however. Sakoba Keita, the head of Guinea’s Ebola response program, told reporters, “The real risk is that other people touch the cooler and have contact with the liquid.” Such situations involving bandits spreading toxic materials are far from unheard of. In one particularly prominent event known as the Goiania Incident, bandits stole radioactive materials from an abandoned hospital in Brazil and sold it to interested but uninformed parties attracted to the blue radioactive glow of the materials. Two-hundred forty-nine people were ultimately contaminated by the time authorities curbed the spread of the materials.
Robbers knowingly in possession of Ebola, unlike those possessing poisonous radioactive materials, may however find themselves with an audience looking to buy just that. As the Ebola outbreak has spread in West Africa, and the potency of the virus to destroy entire communities become more prominent in international media, reports have surfaced that it has caught the attention of terrorist organizations interested in the mass killing of thousands, if not millions, of people. In October, a national security expert predicted to Forbes magazine that the Ebola virus would be particularly of interest to members of the Islamic State, who could turn themselves into “bioweapons” by injecting themselves or coming into contact with the virus, then contacting as many people as possible.