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October 7 2014 | CONAKRY, GUINEA

Guinea Conakry: Ebola Emergency

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The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is booming, since last March to now the number of those infected has increased exponentially, with about 7,000 cases and more than 3,000 deaths (read more). The countries most affected are the Republic of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, which show serious difficulties in containing the epidemic and are suffering, not only for the number of patients and deaths, but also for the closure of schools, the ban on gatherings, the restrictions on travel and trade that caused the rise in prices of basic necessities. Even the Communities in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have been affected, with the death of some of their members as well as relatives and friends. The health personnel is particularly vulnerable, and 216 doctors and nurses have died to date, in countries where human resources in health care are, however, strongly deficient.

In Guinea, Conakry, Fassià and Dubreka in recent months the activity of the DREAM centres, which are treating more than 3,000 people, has had to cope with this serious emergency. Prevention measures have been strengthened (hand washing with chlorinated water, gloves, masks and other protections for sampling and the analysis laboratory...) to protect both staff and patients, and a capillary action of monitoring has been taken, particularly on patients that discontinued the frequency at the centre.

At the same time they began a major campaign of health education and awareness on transmission routes and prevention measures. The intention is to limit the impact of the epidemic of Ebola on the health of people in care for HIV, providing the same standard of care received to date and protecting staff and patients in an appropriate manner; at the same time, we are collaborating to epidemiological surveillance through the screening of the population under treatment in DREAM centres.

Unfortunately, the Ebola epidemic is changing the lives and feelings of the people. In Conakry no one greets you as before, you are avoided, hands are not shaken and people are afraid even of the air they breathe. Many people do not wear any more short-sleeve shirts and they walk more than usual. But you have to go to work and the means of transport are the same: the old yellow taxis where 3 people are on the front seat and 4 on the back seat. A child accompanied by an assistant of the orphanage where he lives, along the road to get to the DREAM centre has had a stomachache and vomited in the car: all fled away from him, leaving him alone on the edge of the road and no one came near. They live with fear and, at the same time, they try to move on. Although the television - which began with a pounding campaign for prevention – does not talk about covering the face and nose, many do. Even in front of kiosks and small bars there is chlorinated water. And they do not go to funerals any more or, prior to arrival they collect detailed information on how the family member died. A high price in human lives is being paid, but they also die from fear as evidenced by the fact that no one wants to enter the hospital: the entrance gate became the gate of Ebola and no one wants to cross it. Many risk the aggravation of curable diseases by staying at home without having the courage to ask anyone.

In this grave moment the DREAM centres are a reference for those that are afraid, confused and do not know what to do. Patients continue to keep appointments. They do not skip the medication and there are those that insisted on drawing samples even without an appointment convinced that the DREAM centre could diagnose even the Ebola virus. If this still can not be done, certainly with DREAM explanations are correct, help to manage the best we can their family life and work, knowing that we do not want to lose anyone or leave anyone alone in the case of infection.

The feeling is that many of them have lived, because of AIDS, a journey of resilience from the disease to a new life: it helps to address this challenge, without looking for scapegoats to blame for the spread of infection and do not believe promises of cures do not exist. There is also who is healed by Ebola and these healings can offer hope and help others to not hide and seek treatment.

On 7 August, the WHO said that the current Ebola outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, and since then the States and International Organizations have mobilised to support and coordinate the response, which is very complex. It is in fact to prevent contagion inside as well as outside the sphere of health, to limit the freedom of movement in the hardest hit areas, to diagnose the disease, to hospitalize sick people, to track all contacts, to manage funerals and burials in order to not spread the infection. The seats in the hospital for the sick of Ebola are absolutely insufficient, and also those suffering from other diseases find it difficult to be cured.

In this sense, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs of the United Nations carried out a census of the organisations involved in the response to the epidemic in Guinea. The Community of Sant'Egidio, with the DREAM programme has been inserted in the areas of communication and social mobilisation and epidemiological surveillance in 3 prefectures of Guinea (contacts). DREAM will then carry out a screening for people with HIV and their families, inform the public and monitor even at home the people that have had contact with a person with Ebola, or those that have symptoms related to the disease but that have not been hospitalized. For these activities they will use the personnel and the organisational and technical resources that the Programme has already started in Guinea.

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