Gouecke, Guinea – Guinean authorities are racing to curb the spread of the Ebola outbreak after several deadly infections were discovered last week in the country’s far south.
The West African state declared an Ebola epidemic on February 14, two weeks after the patients attended a nurse’s funeral in the town of Gouecke and later showed symptoms of the disease, including fever, diarrhea and vomiting.
Among the confirmed and suspected cases – the nurse, five members of her family and the traditional healer she consulted – five have died and two are currently being treated in isolation.
Despite a ban on gathering more than five people, including weddings and weekly markets, people in Gouecke seemed skeptical of government directives and a resurgence of the disease that killed about 2,500 Guineans during an earlier epidemic that broke out in West Africa between 201
“We are not afraid and we are not worried,” said Paul Lama, who was among residents who opposed the ban and appeared at Gouecke’s weekly market on Saturday.
“We know that God is with us. If the authorities want to lie to get their partners’ money [aid organisations], they don’t have to say that. But as far as we are concerned, there is no Ebola. “
Reiterating his sentiment, Fatumata Diabate, a red oil seller from N’Zerecore, said the restraining measures announced by the government pose a threat to people who are already struggling to survive.
“Our husbands have completed their education, but have not found a job. We are responsible for our families, which is why we came to sell our produce to find something to eat, ”Diabate said at the market.
“We need to stop getting tired of this Ebola outbreak story. Besides, we don’t believe in this disease. These are just rumors because we have never seen a patient or person die from this disease. “
Against this background, the Guinean authorities, in partnership with international experts, are trying to establish the full extent of the outbreak.
Efforts include tracking people who have potentially come into contact with Ebola patients to monitor their health and stop the transmission chain. Security forces have also set up checkpoints to measure temperatures and isolate those who appear ill.
Neighboring countries are also on high alert to avoid a repeat of the previous outbreak, which killed more than 11,300 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Authorities in Sierra Leone have deployed workers at entry points across its border with Guinea to help border patrols and health workers, while Liberia has raised the threat level and “stepped up surveillance and prevention activities.”
The resurgence of Ebola could cripple the already strained health systems of countries in the region at a time when they are also battling the coronavirus pandemic.
Health experts stress that providing good and clear information on health education is key at the beginning of Ebola’s response, but in Gouecke some residents say the apparent confusing message has played a role in people’s reluctance to listen to government directives.
“Why do they want to stop the market when the children are still studying, three or four sitting on the same bench all week,” said Foromo, a resident of Guque.
An official in the prefecture, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera that authorities weighed the deployment of security forces to enforce the ban, but in the end they decided not to take action.
The source said a major factor in the decision was fears of escalating tensions and potential clashes between security forces and shoppers, something that happened in 2014.
This was confirmed by a commander in the gendarmerie, who said that the security forces had not received an order to impose the ban.
“Community engagement is particularly important,” said Anya Wolz, Ebola’s emergency coordinator, who oversees the response of Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). “You have to invest time and energy in speaking – and listening – to the communities in the affected areas. You need to adapt the response to what they say, and you need to adapt to the risks of Ebola. It must be a two-way conversation. “
Listening and engaging with locals is also key to the success of a successful vaccination campaign to help fight the haemorrhagic fever epidemic, experts say, citing the current existence of Ebola vaccines as one of the main differences from the latter. hearth.
The expected arrival in the country of about 11,000 doses of the vaccine developed by Merck has been postponed due to bad weather on Sunday, with vaccinations now set to begin on Tuesday instead of Monday.
But even then, authorities fear that the local population may not register for the inoculation program.
“People don’t want to believe it [in Ebola] and connect the disease with something else. No one intends to take the vaccines, “an official in the prefecture was quoted as saying by local media.
“Citizens don’t want to hear anything from us, and that worries us about vaccination.”
Health Minister Remi Lama, a native of Guque, arrived in his hometown on Saturday to convince people of the merits of receiving the vaccine, the source said.
“It’s all coming back to community engagement,” said WFz of MSF. “We have seen this many times in the past. If a community feels involved, heard, and empowered, then the Ebola response is likely to go well, with or without vaccines. But if a community feels sidelined, unheard, and nervous or distrustful, then Ebola’s response is likely to face many difficulties, with or without vaccines.
Honestly, Konate from Gouecke and Ramy Allahoum from Doha