On Friday a crowd of angry Guinean citizens attacked an Ebola treatment center located in the town of Macenta. The mob’s discontent was directed at Doctors Without Borders, which they accused of deliberately bringing Ebola to their country. This attack has complicated the containment of the Ebola epidemic and prompted the temporary evacuation of some international aid.
The attack took place in the town of Macenta—a southern town of Guinea where thus far 14 people have died from Ebola hemorrhagic fever. There, an Ebola treatment center was erected to keep Ebola victims in isolation.
The crowd consisted mainly of young people who threw rocks at international health workers. Their resentment was based on the assertion that Doctors Without Borders had brought the Ebola virus to Guinea and that international aid efforts were killing citizens.
Such accusations are based on circulating misinformation about the procedures being enacted to contain the Ebola epidemic. Resident Kokie Martin accused doctors of transferring individuals to the Ebola isolation ward without confirming their infections first. This would imply that some otherwise healthy patients would be infected with the Ebola virus as a result of their “treatment”.
To the contrary of what these accusations state, patients suspected to be infected with the Ebola virus are first held in an observation center. Only after they are confirmed as positive cases are they transferred to a separate center for isolation and treatment.
While it is indeed true that previous to the current epidemic, no previous outbreaks of Ebola virus have been reported in Guinea, Doctors Without Borders is certainly not responsible for the virus’s introduction. Currently it is suspected that eating meat from fruit bats, a known vector for the virus, caused the first infections in Guinean citizens. After this conclusion was drawn, Guinean administrators banned the consumption of bat meat.
Doctors Without Borders has reported that no one was hurt in the attack on the Ebola treatment center. However tensions between the Guinean citizens and international aid have certainly been strained. Doctors Without Borders concluded that with such unfavorable working conditions, it would be best to suspend their aid activities in Macenta and southeastern Guinea. In the mean time patients will receive aid from Guinean health workers.
The Guinean government condemned the crowd’s attack on the Ebola treatment center and promised that those who had participated in the attack would be brought to justice. The government has also asked its citizens to stay calm and to support international aid groups, citing them as wholly necessary towards ending of the epidemic.
This incident is representative of circulating fear about the Ebola outbreak. In Mali there have also been protests against isolation centers for Ebola victims for fear that they would result in the infection of surrounding neighborhoods. In another incident, Guinean bus-riders fled from the bus after an elderly man vomited. The airline Air France also had a minor incident in which 180 passengers and 11 crew members from a flight departing from the Guinean capital of Conakry were briefly quarantined after someone had been sick in the bathroom.
Thus far, the total sum of reported Ebola infections in Guinea is 137—though this number also includes some unconfirmed cases. Of these, 86 infected patients have died. It is hoped that the crowd’s attack on the Ebola treatment center will remain an isolated incident and that international aid efforts will quickly be reestablished in the area.
By Sarah Takushi