Guinea, Where the Ebola epidemic started. (AP Photo/Youssouf Bah)
In Guinea, where the Ebola epidemic started, it is also getting worse. And no one’s paying any attention.
The Ebola outbreak began in March in Guinea. It soon spread to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone, overwhelming hospital systems there. Monrovia has American boots on the ground, Sierra Leone is leaning heavily on her former colonial ruler, Britain, as well as Cuban doctors, but Guinea has received minimal attention.
Of the nearly 9,000 cases, Guinea has had the smallest amount, at 1,472. Yet it needs just as much help as its neighbors. As the ground zero of this outbreak, it is now the one country with the least amount of resources or even attention.
This week Doctors Without Borders or Médecins San Frontières (MSF) warned that Guinea’s capital Conakry is seeing “a massive spike in cases.” The president of Guinea, where 843 people have died, has just begged retired doctors to come back and assist in the treatment effort.
When I first visited Conakry in 1999 to report on the funeral of Amadou Diallo, the unarmed Bronx resident shot 41 times by New York City cops who mistook his wallet for gun, I saw firsthand how beautiful, but impoverished the entire country was.
Even though Guinea’s bauxite exports ought to make it among the richest nations on the continent, it was lacking basic infrastructure. The major city seemed like a very small town in any other country in the region.
From Conakry to the Fouta-Djallon mountains, France’s colonial legacy was visible everywhere.
Yet in 2014 the French government has not given the commitment that Britain has given to Sierra Leone in the Ebola fight.
The healthcare system is still crumbling.
“It’s still the same or even worse now,” Diallo’s mother, Kadiatou Diallo told me Thursday.
“We don’t have any good hospital in Guinea, we have no infrastructure. Trust me Guinea is the worst (of the three countries healthcare systems).” The Maryland resident has been working with others in the diaspora to bring democratic principles to Guinea under the umbrella group Pottal Fii Ɓantal, but also to build a world-class hospital in Conakry.
“One good hospital built in Guinea with solar power would go a long way. Even if someone wants a test they have to send it elsewhere. One good hospital will be a good start,” Diallo added.
Of course the few Guinean elite can fly to Paris or Morocco for their check-ups. The rest of the 10 million folks are the mercy of the government hospitals, which may not always have running water.
While the US military handles logistics and builds treatment centers in Monrovia, Diallo and others who form part of the “Justice in Guinea” group wish that was also the case in Conakry.
President Barack Obama has leaned on France’s president, Francois Hollande to step up.
“This is not simply charity,” the president. “Probably the single most important thing that we can do to prevent a more serious Ebola outbreak in this country is making sure that we get what is a raging epidemic right now in West Africa under control.”
It appears that Obama frustration with France is now public knowledge despite the administration’s refusal to “name and shame.”
But some Guineans in the US have not refused to name and shame pointing to their own leadership for failing them.
“The Guinean government has shown the worst leadership. The outbreak started in Guinea and they don’t know how to handle it,” said Bashir Bah, 60, a computer engineer who now makes Washington DC his home.
He says the reason the Guinea is lagging behind its neighbors is because President Conde, let go of qualified healthcare workers when he took over as president in 2010 in favor of cronies. “When Alpha Conde got into power one of the first measures was to total purge the health care staff and all the cronies took over. That’s the fundamental explanation. The root cause is ethnic,” Bah said.
Conde is from the Malinke ethnic group and they are about 35% of the population. He’s been accused of sidelining other ethnic groups including the Peul who comprise 40% of the Guineans.
MSF is building two new treatment centers, with one in Conakry to tackle the influx of new Ebola cases after months of instability.
The Atlanta based Humes-McCoy Aviation will fly medical personnel to and from the region for aid groups who want it. They will do it at no cost as long as fuel is paid for.
Guineans in America will join other West African groups to hold a fundraising concert next month to raise funds for the hospital when every one leaves eventually.
And after Obama’s push, the French government said it would kick in some funds to build two treatment centers, but not before implementing stringent temperature checks from travellers jetting in from Conakry at its airport.
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