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The Sick in Guinea Avoiding Hospitals for Fear of Ebola, Caritas Official Says

Caritas Guinea Programs Director, Siba Alexis Dopavogui

Sick people in Guinea are finding it difficult to go to health facilities for treatment since the new Ebola outbreak was declared some two weeks ago, a Caritas official in the West African nation has said.

In an interview with ACI Africa Tuesday, March 2, the Programs Director of Caritas Guinea, Siba Alexis Dopavogui, observed that people in Guinea are behaving the same way they behaved when COVID-19 was first reported in the country.

“The situation here is similar to what we experienced last year when we first heard of COVID-19 in the country. I remember there is a Bishop whose secretary ran away when the Prelate was diagnosed with COVID-19. Nothing has been heard of the secretary to date,” Mr. Dopavogui said.

He added, “People feared going to the hospital for fear of contacting the virus or being told that they had it. The same thing is happening right now. People who had gotten used to the COVID-19 have slid back into fear. This time it is Ebola that they fear. Most are choosing to be treated at home rather than go to a hospital.”

Guinea declared a new Ebola outbreak on February 14 when tests came back positive for the virus after three people died and four fell ill in the country, sending panic in the West African nation and her neighbors.

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Other countries that experienced devastation from the 2013-2016 outbreak that started in Guinea, killing over 11, 300 people, were Sierra Leone and Liberia.

In an interview with ACI Africa following last month’s Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Fr. Peter Konteh who is the Executive Director Caritas Freetown in Sierra Leone said news about the Ebola outbreak in neighboring Guinea had sent fear among people who were still learning to cope with COVID-19.

The Caritas Freetown Official said that the country did not have the capacity to deal with Ebola should the virus cross from neighboring Guinea owing to the massive loss of health professionals in the 2013-2016 outbreak and also in the fight against COVID-19.

“Our health facilities are overstretched at the moment. We lost very good doctors the first time we had to deal with Ebola and many more have been lost in the COVID-19 pandemic. We don’t have the capacity to fight two menacing wars at the same time,” Fr. Konteh told ACI Africa February 17.

Guinea has so far recorded 15 Ebola cases and six related deaths, according to data from the World Health Organization. However, no confirmed cases have so far been recorded outside of the country.

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In an effort to contain the spread of the virus, the country began its vaccination campaign on February 22 in N’Zerekore region, where the first cases were reported.

According to the WHO report, the vaccination uses the “ring strategy” where all people who have come into contact with a confirmed Ebola patient are given the vaccine, as well as frontline and health workers.

The vaccination began shortly after Guinea received more than 11,000 doses of the Ebola vaccine, which were sent by WHO from its headquarters in Geneva.

So far, more than 1,100 people have been immunized as part of the ring vaccination strategy.

In the March 2 interview with ACI Africa, Mr. Dopavogui highlighted some of the concerns about the vaccination including the fact that they will not be sufficient for everyone who needs to be inoculated.

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The Caritas official also noted that there are myths constructed around the safety and quality of the vaccines, which he says need to be demystified.

“People pass a lot of misconstrued information around the vaccine. Some say that women who receive the vaccination will not be able to get children and say that the vaccine has been developed to control the population of the country,” Dopavogui told ACI Africa.

Unfortunately, he added, “such wrong information travels very fast. But we see people coming out in large numbers to get the vaccine.”

As for whether the doses coming into the country will be enough, the Caritas Programmes Director expressed optimism that health officials will assess the situation of infection and supply the vaccines on the basis of needs.

Caritas Guinea, the official said, has embarked on sensitization activities in the country aimed to change the mentality of people on the vaccines coming into the country.

The campaigns are also aimed at increasing the level of sanitation in the country to prevent the spread of the virus.

Mr. Dopavogui said that some protocols put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are also coming in handy to curb Ebola.

“People were already used to the culture of washing hands more often, keeping social distance and not shaking hands to avoid contacting COVID-19. With these measures still in place, the fight against Ebola will be easier this time,” he explained.

Apart from Ebola and COVID-19, Guinea is struggling with extreme food shortage owing to the pandemic which Mr. Dopavogui says destabilized the country’s economy.

“The circulation of food between towns was cut during the COVID-19 lockdown in which the city was cut off from access to provinces. The imports were also not possible because the borders were closed,” the Caritas official told ACI Africa March 2.