Guinea: Caritas at the forefront of the fight against ebola

Guinea: Caritas at the forefront of the fight against ebola

Davide Demichelis

“Today, sixty Caritas agents are going to cities and villages in southern Guinea to inform about the prevention of the ebola epidemic.” Alexandre Koliéis is director of Caritas’ Nzérekoré branch. The regional Crisis Committee has put him in charge of prevention initiatives to help contain the virus. This is the only way to protect against the disease. There is no cure for ebola. So far, a fatality rate of 63 per cent has been registered in Guinea. It is one of the most lethal infectious diseases out there, with a very high contagion rate.

Caritas agents are taking chlorine and soap with them to the villages. Their first task is to encourage the local population to take great care of their hygiene, washing their hands thoroughly before eating, washing fruit and vegetables and keep physical contact with other people to a minimum, as the virus can be passed on through blood and saliva. It is vital to avoid game, particularly ape and bat, as they seem to be the most contagious.

Getting these concepts across in Guinea is not easy,” says Dr. Gianni Guidotti, who has just returned from a month’s work in Guinea’s capital, Conakry. He was working on the Dream project, an initiative to help prevent AIDS. “We have had great difficulty in explaining to school children that they must not drink puddle water,” he said. The first cases of the disease in the capital were recorded in the past few days. But the area that is worst hit is the south, on the Liberia and Sierra Leone borders.

This is where the Caritas agents launched their prevention initiatives today: Nzérekoré, Macenta, Kissidougou and Gueckédou, where the first ebola case was recorded two weeks ago. It was a male nurse and he died in the local hospital. The second victim was the doctor who treated him. Deaths also occurred among their family members. The virus is often transmitted at funerals. In Guinea it is customary to wash and touch the body as a final goodbye gesture. But this is precisely when the virus seems to be most contagious. According to local figures, there were 77 recorded cases of ebola in Gueckédou and of these, 55 died.

“We are sending out a communiqué via all radio stations in the region to encourage the public to pay greater attention to their personal hygiene,” Caritas’ director said. In all churches, at the end of mass, faithful are encouraged to avoid any actions that may help the virus to spread, for example direct contact with people: “But we tend to kiss each other when we meet. It’s not easy to change our habits so radically,” said Alexandre Kolié. In many schools children are forbidden from holding hands.

According to the World Health Organisation, previous cases of epidemics in Congo and Uganda have shown that the most effective way of preventing the spread of the disease is through a rapid response, attacking the disease at its source.

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 11:31
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