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The Ebola Epidemic Isn't Only Threatening Guineans’ Health

Scientists wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) testing samples for the Ebola virus - Public Domain

Scientists wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) testing samples for the Ebola virus – Public Domain

In its latest report dated March 11, the World Health Organisation (WHO) notes that since the Ebola epidemic began ravaging Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia 14 months ago, there have been more than 24,000 confirmed cases of the disease. This has caused the deaths of nearly 10,000 people (many cases are still undetected because of a lack of infrastructure).

This epidemic is well on its way to impoverishing the economies of these three countries. The World Bank estimates that the cumulative growth losses due to the epidemic will amount to $1.6 billion in 2015 for the three countries. In 2014, Liberia and Sierra Leone registered GDP growth of 2.2% and 4% respectively, compared to the forecast 5.9% and 11.3% before the epidemic.

in Sierra Leone, victory against the virus is near, with a decrease in number of infections being observed thanks to international aid, especially the US army and a proactive and assertive national policy that imposed quarantines throughout Sierra Leone's regions, accompanied by campaigns to inform and educate the population.

But the situation remains particularly worrisome in Guinea. Already with a weaker economy than the other two in 2014, Guinea's growth rate fell to 0.5% against the 4.5% estimated before the epidemic, according to World Bank. All sectors of the economy have slowed considerably. This ebb in growth increases food insecurity issues and poses an even greater threat to the over 230,000 poor and the vulnerable in Guinea. There are warnings that the number might reach 470,000 by the end of March 2015 if nothing is done. All agricultural production significantly dropped, rice production fell by 20%, wheat by 25%, coffee by half and cocoa production by a third.  

Fourteen months after the death of the first Ebola victim, the local population continues to clash with security forces over the stigma that comes with infected districts, resulting in deaths and property destruction. Thus, in a note published on February 12, the International Red Cross condemned the violence that has victimized many of its volunteers: 

Depuis juillet 2014, les volontaires de la Croix-Rouge en Guinée ont subi une dizaine d’attaques par mois, qui vont des agressions verbales à des actes de violence physique. L’incident le plus récent est survenu dimanche 8 février à Forécariah, dans l’ouest de la Guinée. Deux volontaires de la Croix-Rouge guinéenne ont été battus alors qu’ils étaient venus dans la ville pour organiser un enterrement digne et sécurisé d’un membre de la communauté.

Since July 2014, the Red Cross volunteers in Guinea have suffered a dozen attacks per month, ranging from verbal abuse to physical violence. One of the recent incidents occurred Sunday, 8 February at Forécariah, Western Guinea. Two volunteers from the Guinea Red Cross were beaten when they reached a village with the purpose to organise a dignified and secure burial for a community member.

Earlier in February, the arrest of an imam accused of having led the funeral rites of a person suspected to have died of Ebola has caused clashes. Bandjou Keith, a Guinean blogger at Guinee Univers, reminded readers that:

Ce n’est pas la première fois que les jeunes de yimbaya [un quartier de la banlieue de Conakry] expriment leur réticence face à l’épidémie d’Ebola dans leur quartier. On se rappelle il y a quelques mois, ils ont manifesté contre les autorités gouvernementales et communales de Matoto, les responsables de la coordination de lutte contre Ebola, les Ambassadeurs des Etats-Unis d’Amérique et de la France et les agents de médecins sans frontières (MSF) venus pour procéder à la réunion d’une sensibilisation en vue de la construction d’un centre de traitement Ebola dans ledit quartier. 

It isn't the first occasion that the youth of Yimbaya (a Conakry suburb) expresses their anger about the epidemic in their neighbourhood. A few months ago, they marched against the Matoto government, local authorities, those in charge of the fight against Ebola, the ambassadors of US and France and the Doctors Without Borders team in order to get a meeting about the planned construction of an Ebola treatment centre.

Sidy BAH, a Conakry-based blogger at VisionGuinee.Info, reports of an incident at Faranah, about 450 km from Conakry:

Le virus des rumeurs semble se propager plus vite qu’Ebola. De Conakry à Coyah en passant par Dabola et Faranah, les colporteurs des rumeurs gagnent du terrain. Vendredi, la tension était vive à Faranah où des élèves affolés s’en sont pris au centre de Transit Ebola de la localité

Another epidemic, one made of wild rumours, seems to spread faster than Ebola. From Conakry to Coyah through Dabola and Faranah, the buzz dealers (or rumours hawkers) has gained ground. Friday, there was high suspense in the district of Faranah because panicked students attacked the only Transit Ebola Center located in the village.

According to Sidy Bah, rumours of Ebola being a foreign-driven disease started from schools in the urban district of Faranah following the arrival of a health team to immunise school children. The spreading of these rumors has triggered further violence. In his post, Bah gives more details on the causes of the unrest:

Le Centre de Transit Ebola, encore non achevé, situé à proximité de la cité Niger a été saccagé par des écoliers survoltés. Une équipe de Médecins sans frontières chargée d’opérationnaliser le Centre a échappé de peu à un lynchage.

Leur véhicule a été incendié par une foule furax. A l’allure où vont les choses la stratégie ‘’zéro Ebola en 60 jours‘’ se dirige tout droit vers l’échec si rien n’est fait pour arrêter les rumeurs.

The Ebola Transit Centre is still incomplete but the center that is located near the city of Niger has been ransacked by enraged students. A team of Doctors Without Borders barely escaped but their vehicle was torched by an enraged mob. The way the events are moving, the objective “Zero Ebola in 60 days” is heading straight towards failure if nothing is done to stop such hearsay.

“Zero Ebola in 60 days” is a goal that the head of states of the three countries most affected have committed to work towards starting February 15. Currently, due to lack of information and awareness, the situation is far from improving in Guinea.

Alas, these are only a few examples of the violence that has been directed against health professionals throughout the country. During the week that ended February 15, the WHO reported that 13 counties had reported at least on security incident.

Whilst announcing the beginning of withdrawal of US troops from the region, US President Barack Obama hailed the progress made in the fight against the epidemic in the three countries, but he also emphasized that in Guinea, the road ahead is still long. Analyzing the recent reports in a post published on guineenews.org, Amadou Tham Camara, a Guinean expatriate in France, noted:

Depuis le début de l’épidémie, la coordination nationale de lutte contre Ebola est éberluée, toujours avec une longueur… de  retard. Les stratégies subrepticement concoctées par Dr Sakoba, pour vaincre le Mal en Six mois, en 90 jours et maintenant en 60 jours, se sont toutes révélées inefficaces, les unes plus que les autres. 

Incapable de rompre les chaînes de contamination, la coordination s’est résolue, en désespoir de cause,  de faire de l’omertà, depuis plusieurs mois, sur les chiffres des sujets “contacts” (les malades potentiels) dans ses communications hebdomadaires. Sans doute, pour ne pas heurter les sensibilités. 

Mais, à ce train, tout porte à croire qu’à l’instar du patient zéro, le dernier patient d’Ebola sera…..un guinéen.

Since the beginning of the epidemic, the national coordination of the efforts to control Ebola is always stalled, always slow and often too late. Strategies surreptitiously concocted by Dr. Sakoba to defeat the evil within six months, in 90 days and now in 60 days have all failed.

Unable to break the contamination chain, the coordination effort has been reduced to silence in regards to the potential patient population, probably, in order not to offend the authorities’ feelings. It is very likely that the last Ebola patient in the region will be from Guinea.  

In addition to the conflicts with security forces and the clashes with the nursing staff, cases have been registered in areas where there have been no known contamination previously. For example, the website InternationalSOS reports that during the week ended February 8, only 18% of new cases were recorded in already declared infected areas, while in an ideal case this amount should have been equivalent to 100%.

The WHO explains the risks to the community when someone is declared dead from Ebola. It's not only that they have not received treatment, but also other members have been exposed to the virus. More than 30 dangerous cases were found and 21 deaths occurred in the communities rather than in the treatment centres.   

This is proof that despite official discourse, the situation is far from under control. The population is not to blame, rather it is the authorities who did not adequately and effectively communicate about how to eradicate it.

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