Efforts to combat the spread of Ebola in Guinea suffered a setback when officials meeting to launch the construction of a clinic sparked a protest in Conakry, the country’s capital city last week. Angry youths marched to the construction site when Mohamed Saif Fofana, Guinea’s prime minister, was about to lay the foundation stone of the clinic, a symbolic gesture tha the project was a reality. The youths chanted that they were afraid of Ebola, and they did not want it in their neighborhood. They shouted that they did not want their region to be polluted.
Government officials at the scene attempted to pacify the leaders of the group as dignitaries left the venue, but this only angered the protesters further, who scattered the sound equipment and furniture at the venue. The clinic was to be staffed by personnel from Doctors Without Borders, an aid agency. An official of the agency said the organization would consult the government before proceeding with the project.
Officials from other aid agencies working in Guinea said their employees have been experiencing hostility from local communities owing to distrust that currently exists. The Red Crescent and The Red Cross said this distrust presented a major hurdle in combating the spread of the disease.
Some local communities claim that foreign workers intend to harvest the organs and blood of black Africans. Protesters have raided treatment centers in Liberia and Guinea in the past, claiming the Ebola was crafted in laboratories in the west. Three journalists who were members of an Ebola outreach team were murdered in Guinea in September.
The protests at the construction site of an Ebola clinic sparked by youths who believe it will lead to the spread of the disease in Guinea seem to negate the efforts of the country’s president Alex Condé, who has made the eradication of Ebola his top priority. He told The New York Times in November that Ebola is always on his mind. He said he though of Ebola when shaving, when eating, and when sleeping.
The article in The New York Times stated that President Condé’s initial reaction to the Ebola outbreak early this year was guarded as he believed that it could be contained easily. He publicly criticized Doctors Without Borders, an aid agency fighting the disease in Guinea, for saying that the problem was dire. The president was trying to protect foreign investment in the country.
As it became apparent that the disease was spreading rapidly, he changed his attitude towards the problem and made it his top priority, appointing Dr. Sakoba Keita to oversee the government’s efforts at stamping out the disease. He is in constant touch with Keita, telephoning him several times during the day to get updates and to give directions on what he should do. Some international officials say he is now micromanaging the Ebola eradication program.
Aid agencies have faced difficulties delivering their services due to poor coordination of millions of dollars from developed countries. French president Francois Hollande visited Guinea in November to take stock of efforts made so far to contain the spread of the disease in Guinea. Aid agencies hope that his visit will also help create a mechanism to coordinate the work performed by different agencies, as well as improve communication between the agencies and local communities to eliminate confusion that may spark protests similar to the recent one in Conakry during the launch of an Ebola Clinic.
By Benedicto Ateku