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Ebola in Guinea: A long road to recovery

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Children in Guinea whose schools are currently closed due to Ebola prepare for a TV broadcast to spread the message about the importance of hand-washing

Recently, I set off from Conakry on my way to Kankan, one of the areas of Guinea worst affected by the Ebola crisis.

I was excited to catch a glimpse of the vast expanse of beautiful countryside that I had heard so much about.

But it’s a 600km trip, and my enthusiasm had all but vanished some 14 hours later as I continued to be thrown around the back of our car.

 

A long, painful journey in search of care

However for most people here, even this sort of arduous journey is not an option.

Ebola has devastated the country’s infrastructure and unpaved roads or unfit vehicles (including ambulances) have become a huge impediment to relief efforts.

This is much worse than inconvenient: there are currently only two treatment centres for the whole country, and they are two days apart by road.

I have heard stories of Ebola victims travelling to a clinic on the back of a motorbike in order to shave a few hours off the journey – a terrible hardship for a grievously sick person, not to mention a huge risk of infection for the driver.

 

Ebola is affecting everyone

Nobody is exempt from this epidemic: children still haven’t returned to school, travel in and out of the country is extremely restricted, and unemployment (which was already rife) has shot up, as major contractors and employers continue to pull out of the country.

Everyone I meet tells me the same thing: everything has changed; life as they knew it has stopped.

Even simple daily activities now pose a risk: crowded markets, packed buses, daily prayers.

I’d never visited Guinea before it was hit by Ebola so it is hard for me to see the changes, but the subdued atmosphere is impossible to miss.

 

Many questions, few answers

In response we have been running training sessions with transport union employees to equip them with the knowledge to reduce the risk of Ebola on crowded buses. These sessions were extremely vigorous: people had so many questions, they were bursting with the need to know more.

Increasingly, people really want to understand how to stop this disease and get Guinea back on its feet.

What is clear is that the international response to Ebola in Guinea needs to grow faster, with more resources, personnel and expertise, if it is to have any chance of defeating this disease. It is well past time for the spotlight to turn on Guinea.

 

An urgent need

I was only further reminded of this as I woke a few days ago to the news that 21 patients had been admitted to one of the two treatment centres overnight, making a worrying total of 109 cases in just 6 days.

I can’t help but think of the journey the sick will have had to take on that terrible road, and what will happen to those who will turn up this morning to find this treatment centre now full.

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