Don't panic: Health groups working to contain Ebola epidemic in Guinea

Scanning electron microscopic image of Ebola virions. Global health organizations working on the ground in Guinea where the disease hit caution against widespread panic. Photo by: Public Library of Science / CC BY

Global health organizations are busy not just containing the Ebola outbreak currently gripping the West African nation of Guinea, but also the panic that is spilling over into neighboring countries.

International medical group Medecins Sans Frontieres has set up isolation facilities in Guekedou and Macenta prefectures — bordering Liberia and Sierra Leone — where confirmed cases of the virus have been identified.

The organization has also started contact tracing, with doctors going from village to village to identify people showing symptoms of the disease and assign them immediate medical care.

The Ebola virus contains symptoms such as high fever, headaches, diarrhea, vomiting, and internal and external bleeding.

The strain first discovered in Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 1970s was also that which was found in some confirmed cases in Guinea. This particular strain has a fatality rate of up to 90 percent, according to the World Health Organization. To date, no vaccine is available and research has remained stagnant.

Without a cure, MSF is focusing on addressing the symptoms, hoping to at least stop the spread of the disease and reduce suffering among patients — all part of a wider effort to contain the virus in West Africa.

‘Avoid panic’ — MSF

In coordination with the Guinean government, teams of health promotion experts from the organization are raising awareness and disseminating information about the virus. This includes tips on how to avoid contagion through regular hand-washing and ensuring that all health workers are wearing proper face masks, goggles and gloves when in contact with a suspected case.

“We must avoid widespread panic,” MSF emergency coordinator Marie-Christine Férir said in a statement.

This mirrors concerns raised by the Red Cross Society of Guinea's head of health operations:

“Panic is our worst enemy. Communities need to be informed,” said Facely Diawara.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has meanwhile deployed a field assessment coordination team on the ground that includes an infectious disease specialist and a psychosocial support delegate to help develop the organization's response plan.

There are currently 63 Ebola-suspected deaths in Guinea, although only 13 samples have tested positive to date. Suspected cases in neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone have yet to be confirmed.

Limited response?

MSF was among the first organizations on the ground, and has been singled out for praise by the Guinea government in its response to the epidemic.

But now that the health scare is threatening to spill across borders, some observers wonder whether the response appears too limited, with only a handful of organizations currently active on the ground.

WHO has been issuing updates, facilitated the transport of an Institute Pasteur laboratory from Senegal to the Guinea capital of Conakry, is providing support to one of MSF's labs, and has sent a team of in-house experts composed of medical doctors, epidemiologists and an anthropologist to assess the situation.

The U.S. Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention meanwhile appears to be on standby.

A note on its website says it is in “regular communication” with WHO and MSF to “identify areas where CDC subject matter experts can contribute to the response,” although a well-placed source revealed that the reason the institute has yet to put a team on the ground is because of a lack of funds.

How would you assess the international community's response so far to the Ebola outbreak in Guinea? Are you living or working in the region, or perhaps on the ground in the affected prefectures? Please let us know by leaving a comment below or sending an email to news@devex.com.

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About the author

  • Ravelo jennylei

    Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.