The government of Guinea has confirmed four cases of Ebola and two deaths, the first in months following the official conclusion of the 2014 outbreak in that country that took the lives of over 11,000 people.
Officials in Guinea confirmed that a married couple had died of Ebola after exhibiting the telltale symptoms of the disease: excessive bleeding, vomiting, and diarrhea. The two living Ebola patients have been identified as “a mother and her 5-year-old son, relatives of the deceased” by World Health Organization (WHO) health workers. Before confirming the two new cases, Guinean officials noted that three suspected cases of Ebola were under surveillance.
The 2014 West African Ebola outbreak began in Guinea in February 2014 and officially ended in December 2015. Officials have not indicated whether they have evidence that the new cases are related to that outbreak — that the patients contracted the virus from others carrying it — or are new patients zero, having ingested the virus from natural sources of it, such as bush meat. They have noted, however, that they believe Guinea’s medical infrastructure is significantly more prepared to contain the virus than two years ago and do not expect a similar outbreak as that of 2014.
The WHO is addressing the Guinea situation as a “flare-up” and sending in medical experts to help local officials curb the potential for another outbreak. Other international aid groups are also deploying resources to the region. “We are doing all we can to be ready to receive more cases,” Augustin Augier, a representative of the Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA), said of his organization, adding that, generally, “there has been a very professional and experienced response across the board.”
The news arrives hours after the WHO announced that a resurgence of Ebola in Sierra Leone had been contained, and no more cases were known in the last country to be declared Ebola-free in the region. “Our response… was prompt and effective and it reaffirmed the local capacity that was built during the previous encounter with the disease, to manage public health events and to say never again shall we be overtaken by any public emergency,” Minister of Health and Sanitation Dr. Abu Bakarr Fofana assured.
While the governments of the affected nations — Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia above all — have seen very limited cases of the disease in the past four months, they remain deeply affected by the damage the outbreak caused on civil society. In Liberia, officials are investigating scandalous accusations of embezzlement of funds donated to the Red Cross for Ebola treatment centers. The government shut down Monrovia’s local Red Cross chapter entirely Thursday to fully investigate its bookkeeping after evidence surfaced that up to $1.8 million in Ebola funding could have been mismanaged.
Such a shutdown will likely affect Liberians looking to the organization for other health services outside of Ebola patients, as well. And those in need of doctors who did not contract Ebola are some of the most negatively affected by the outbreak. According to Liberian Health Minister Dr. Bernice Dahn, pregnant women and girls have suffered the most from limited medical resources. Even those with access to doctors fear entering medical facilities for fear of encountering Ebola patients and putting their child’s life in danger. “The Ebola outbreak did not only cripple an already devastated system in our country health care delivery system it also eroded the confidence in the health care delivery system,” Dr. Dahn told the Front Page Africa. “So, up to today, there are many pregnant women and girls who are still reluctant to seek care in the health care delivery system.” She laments that World Bank estimates see a 111 percent spike in maternal mortality rates due to this reluctance to seek medical care.
Psychologically, Liberians also carry the scars of Ebola, none mores o than those called upon to work directly with the bodies of Ebola victims. There are more than 30 men in Liberia hired to cremate the bodies of victims to prevent the virus from spreading further, most who report abandonment by families, friends, and an inability to find work. Cremating bodies is considered a sin in Liberian society, and those who commit it are considered criminals.
“When we walk in the community, people point at us and remark that we are Ebola body burners. As a result, people won’t give us contracts to help us make a living,” cremation worker Franklin McCathy told the Liberian Observer. He notes that his wife left him over his work helping contain the Ebola outbreak, and his daughters must be home-schooled to avoid bullying from students and teachers, who prevent them from playing with other children. Others like McCathy have reported being “hounded out” of their communities, forced to face homelessness, due to their work with the government.