Ebola outbreak: Guineans in shock

2014-04-11 13:19
Ebola Virus.

Ebola Virus. (Shutterstock)

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Cape Town – An Ebola outbreak which has killed more than 100 people in Guinea has left communities asking why the disease has attacked their country.

Doctors Without Borders' (MSF) communications Advisor Amandine Colin told News24 it was the first time that the West African country had experienced such an outbreak and it was difficult for many to understand its effects.

According to the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) figures, 157 people have been infected with Ebola in Guinea, 101 of whom have died.

In neighbouring Liberia, there have been 21 cases, including 10 fatalities.

The outbreak began in the forests of southern Guinea, but has spread to Conakry, a sprawling port city on the Atlantic coast and home to between 1.5 million and two million people.

The WHO indicated that the outbreak was among the "most challenging" ever to strike the West African region since the disease emerged four decades ago.

Colin said most people in Guinea had no idea what this "mysterious" disease was and this complicated their understanding of how to deal with it.

"It's complicated for communities to deal and to understand it [Ebola]." said Colin.

Community members listen as an MSF worker explains in detail the effects of the Ebola virus. (Picture: MSF)

The Ebola virus can be transmitted to humans who handle sick or dead wild animals - believed to be its original source - and between humans through direct contact with another's blood, faeces or sweat.

The most severe strains of Ebola have had a 90% fatality rate, and there is no vaccine, cure or specific treatment.

Colin said Guinea communities found it difficult during funeral ceremonies where they were encouraged not to touch or wash the bodies of the deceased as they risked getting infected.

"We know that the moment of funerals is one of the biggest moments of contamination because the viral load is still high in the body. And most of the times it involves touching the body, washing the body. It's the moment you can get infected... So we try to tell the communities to deal with the bodies in a way that is safe for them," said Colin.

An MSF worker explains to community members how they are supposed to handle themselves in the face of the Ebola outbreak. (Picture: MSF)

Colin said when a patient died health officials, including a psychologist, would visit the bereaved family and try to explain to them how they are supposed to handle the funeral and the body of their loved one.

"We don't want them to not have a possibility to grieve," Colin said, adding that it was, however, difficult for many to understand as they thought that "a bunch of white people" wanted to interfere with their culture and tell them how to deal with their traditions.

Communities found it difficult to understand they could not touch or wash the body before they could bury it. More so, they couldn't bear the idea of having the body put in a body bag for burial.

Colin, however, said things were changing as the health officials continued to conduct meetings with community leaders and try and make them understand the disease.

Ebola MSF staff busy at work in Conakry. (Picture: MSF)

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

The chances of survival increase if patients are kept hydrated and treated for secondary infections.

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