Ebola in Guinea: MSF reinforces teams to help control spread of epidemic

In response to the Ebola epidemic that has broken out in Guinea, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) continues to reinforce its teams in Guéckédou and Macenta, two towns in the south of the country where the virus has spread. 30 staff members are already on the ground and more doctors, nurses and sanitation specialists will be joining them in the coming days.

To date, thirteen samples have tested positive for the Ebola virus, an extremely deadly viral haemorrhagic fever. Other samples are currently being analysed. Suspect cases have been identified in neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone, but none of these have yet been confirmed by laboratory tests. The latest official figures from the Guinean Ministry of Health declare 86 suspect cases, of whom 56 have died.

“In partnership with the Ministry of Health, we have set up a dedicated ten-bed facility in Guéckédou town,” says Marie-Christine FÉRIR, MSF emergency coordinator. “We have also started working on a facility in Macenta. It is essential that all patients showing symptoms of the disease must be put on treatment rapidly and isolated from the rest of the community.” Currently there are ten patients with Ebola symptoms under treatment in Guéckédou.

“We are doing everything we can to treat the patients with dignity, whilst at the same time protecting the community and family from possible contamination,” says Férir. The disease mainly spreads by direct contact with a patient’s blood, faeces or saliva. The team is therefore trying to minimise potentially dangerous contact between the patients and their families, whilst still maintaining family links.

The MSF teams are also focusing on ‘contact tracing’, identifying people who have been in direct contact with Ebola patients and who could therefore have caught the disease. “Our Ebola-specialist doctors go by foot from village to village in areas where there have been cases,” says Férir. “They trace people showing symptoms of the disease and bring them to the dedicated facilities for medical care.” No specific treatment exists for Ebola, but medical care can reduce the symptoms, halt the development of the disease or reduce a patient’s suffering.

MSF health promotion experts also inform the community about how the disease spreads and what steps to take to avoid contamination. “Above all, we must avoid widespread panic,” says Férir. “That is why it is so important to spread correct information so people understand the disease and how to protect themselves.”

Last weekend, MSF transported 33 tons of material by air, enabling the rapid set-up of isolation facilities and ensuring there are sufficient medical supplies and protective outfits for the teams to work through the coming weeks.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has worked in Guinea since 2001, with programmes for HIV/AIDS in Conakry, malaria in Guéckédou and several emergency interventions such as cholera and meningitis epidemics.