Fear stalks Ebola-hit southern Guinea

April 3, 2014 by Mouctar Bah

Life goes on for the people of the Ebola-hit Guinean city of Gueckedou, but their defiance masks widespread terror of the invisible menace stalking their dusty streets.

The southern city's 200,000 residents are coming to terms with living in the ground zero of west Africa's first outbreak of the highly contagious virus, which has killed more than 80 of their countrymen.

"Everyone is afraid of this disease, the people who aren't talking about it just as much as the people who are. Everyone is afraid. It's as if everyone is waiting for their turn to come," said Koin Barry, a petrol station employee.

"People here are describing this epidemic as divine retribution."

The medical aid charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) warned this week that poverty-hit Guinea is facing an Ebola epidemic "of a magnitude never before seen" as the nation's president appealed for calm amid a rising death toll.

Ebola has killed almost 1,600 people since it was first observed in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo but this is the first fatal outbreak in west Africa.

Liberia meanwhile has confirmed two cases and a suspected five more, while Sierra Leone is closely monitoring 15 people who attended a funeral in an area hit by the outbreak, according to the World Health Organization. Liberia and Sierre Leone neighbour Guinea.

The tropical virus leads to haemorrhagic fever, causing muscle pain, weakness, vomiting, diarrhoea and, in severe cases, organ failure and unstoppable bleeding.

Since January, Guinea health authorities have reported more than 127 suspected cases scattered across the country, but the vast majority are in the heavily-forested and remote south.

Miriam Sandouno, a 14-year-old pupil at the Patrice Lumumba school, recalled how her mother had taken her out of lessons when people first began talking about the virus.

During the month she was kept off, two of her friends died at their homes, she said.

"I said to my mother, even though I'm not going to school, I'm still going to die here at home if that's what God wants. So she told me to go back to lessons," she told AFP.

Severe bleeding

Gueckedou's city centre was teeming with people this week, with shops and offices open for business and horse-drawn carts taking up the little space left by motorbike taxis on the streets.

Yet the constant to-ing and fro-ing of vehicles adorned with the MSF logo has shattered the veneer of normality.

Sitting in front of his business on a trunk road leading to the regional capital Nzerekore, a shopkeeper called Abdul watches the four-wheel drive trucks roar past.

"It's lucky that they are here, otherwise the entire population would disappear in this epidemic," he says.

MSF has set up two corrugated iron buildings surrounded by a tented village to treat and isolate the sick and test samples in a mobile laboratory.

Dozens of Guineans and foreigners are working in the 20-bed makeshift clinic, some dressed from head to toe in sealed biohazard suits with gloves, goggles, masks and boots.

The charity is also running sessions at the main hospital, teaching medical staff how to detect and treat the illness but also how to protect themselves from infection.

One class on Tuesday bombarded MSF staff with questions about how long the organisation is going to stay in Guinea.

"We couldn't do anything without you... We would never have known it was Ebola causing the fever here," a worker said.

They also complained that the conspicuous evacuation of patients to the MSF Ebola clinic was adding to residents' fears over the outbreak.

"All that we ask of our colleagues from MSF is that they stop sounding the ambulance siren every time... they transfer the victim. It's making people uneasy," a lab technician said.

On Wednesday the World Health Organization reported five new Ebola cases since the start of the week, saying that the death rate was 65 percent.

Humanitarian organisation Plan International said awareness of public health measures had become central to containing the , adding that dangerous misinformation was hampering the response.

"In affected areas, communities have witnessed horrific scenes of people dying with signs of bloody vomit and severe bleeding," it said in a statement.

"The severity of infection and associated symptoms, have also fuelled rumours as people are coming up with their own explanations behind sudden deaths."

Explore further: Ebola outbreak in Guinea an 'unprecedented epidemic', MSF says (Update)

Related Stories

Ebola outbreak in Guinea an 'unprecedented epidemic', MSF says (Update)

March 31, 2014
Aid organisation Doctors Without Borders said Monday an Ebola outbreak suspected of killing at least 78 people in Guinea was an "unprecedented epidemic" that had spread across the west African nation.

Liberia confirms spread of 'unprecedented' Ebola epidemic

March 31, 2014
Aid organisation Doctors Without Borders said Monday an Ebola outbreak suspected of killing dozens in Guinea was an "unprecedented epidemic" as Liberia confirmed its first cases of the deadly contagion.

Saudi halts Guinea, Liberia pilgrim visas over Ebola

April 1, 2014
Saudi Arabia on Tuesday announced the suspension of visas for Muslim pilgrims from Guinea and Liberia, two African countries hit by an outbreak of the deadly Ebola epidemic.

Morocco steps up guard after Ebola outbreak in Guinea

April 1, 2014
Morocco announced extra health screening measures Tuesday at entry points to the country, in particular at Casablanca airport, after the outbreak of the deadly Ebola epidemic in Guinea.

Liberia confirms first Ebola cases

March 31, 2014
Liberia has confirmed two cases of the deadly Ebola virus that is suspected to have killed at least 78 people in neighbouring Guinea, according to the World Health Organization.

Five new Ebola cases in Guinea in 24 hours

April 2, 2014
Five new cases of the deadly Ebola virus have been recorded in Guinea in the past 24 hours, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.

Recommended for you

New approach could help curtail hospitalizations due to influenza infection

January 18, 2018
More than 700,000 Americans were hospitalized due to illnesses associated with the seasonal flu during the 2014-15 flu season, according to federal estimates. A radical new approach to vaccine development at UCLA may help ...

Flu may be spread just by breathing, new study shows; coughing and sneezing not required

January 18, 2018
It is easier to spread the influenza virus (flu) than previously thought, according to a new University of Maryland-led study released today. People commonly believe that they can catch the flu by exposure to droplets from ...

Certain flu virus mutations may compensate for fitness costs of other mutations

January 18, 2018
Seasonal flu viruses continually undergo mutations that help them evade the human immune system, but some of these mutations can reduce a virus's potency. According to new research published in PLOS Pathogens, certain mutations ...

Zika virus damages placenta, which may explain malformed babies

January 18, 2018
Though the Zika virus is widely known for a recent outbreak that caused children to be born with microencephaly, or having a small head, and other malformations, scientists have struggled to explain how the virus affects ...

Study reveals how MRSA infection compromises lymphatic function

January 17, 2018
Infections of the skin or other soft tissues with the hard-to-treat MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria appear to permanently compromise the lymphatic system, which is crucial to immune system function. ...

Fresh approach to tuberculosis vaccine offers better protection

January 17, 2018
A unique platform that resulted in a promising HIV vaccine has also led to a new, highly effective vaccine against tuberculosis that is moving toward testing in humans.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.