CDC calls for French-speaking medical personnel to combat Ebola in Guinea

Health workers in Guinea. The West African country wants French-speaking medical personnel in its ongoing fight to control the Ebola epidemic. Photo by: Martine Perret / UNMEER / CC BY-ND

The ongoing fight to control the Ebola epidemic in Guinea will require dozens of highly qualified French-speaking medical personnel, according to Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden.

“We’re asking health departments around the U.S. to lend us people for three to six months,” Frieden told Devex Tuesday. “We’re working on every route we can to get more people in.”

The rate of new Ebola cases in Liberia has plunged and has leveled off in Sierra Leone, but health officials are now focusing on Guinea, where rates continue to fluctuate and no downward trend has yet been identified, according to the World Health Organization’s latest Ebola situation report.

Frieden added that the CDC is working with the Canadian Healthcare Agency to fill positions in the Ebola-stricken country, and that the European CDC has recently sent eight qualified French speakers into the region. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has also come forward to send qualified candidates, according to the CDC director.

This call for help comes as economists warn the decline of the French language. The number of speakers worldwide could decline by 30 million before 2050, according to a report commissioned by French President Francois Hollande. And enrollment in French as a second language in universities across the United States has substantially declined since the 1970s, according to the Modern Language Association of America’s latest survey.

But engaging local communities in the fight against Ebola requires knowledge of local language and customs. This is especially true in French-speaking Guinea, where rural communities are still resistant to medical care and foreign aid.

And as Frieden made clear Tuesday at the U.S. House of Representatives: “A blind spot anywhere is a risk to all of us everywhere.”

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About the author

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    Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a former global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid, and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the U.S., and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.

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