Threat of double epidemic worries Guineans as Ebola vaccines dispatched

Member of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) team putting on protective gear at the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, where people infected with Ebola were treated. File photo taken on 28 June 2014.
Member of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) team putting on protective gear at the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, where people infected with Ebola were treated. File photo taken on 28 June 2014. © AFP - Cellou Binani

Some 11,000 vaccines for the Ebola virus are expected to arrive in Guinea this weekend, as a new outbreak has left five people dead and almost 200 contact cases. The stark reminder of the last West African outbreak comes with added complications of the Covid-19 crisis, which is already creating new challenges for health workers. 


Ebola vaccines are being prepared in Geneva, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Guinea health authorities said on Thursday, with a vaccination campaign starting as early as next week. A further 8,600 doses will also be shipped from the US.

The UN said earlier in the week that it had released US$15 million from an emergency relief fund to help Guinea, as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo, where another outbreak has surfaced.

An Ebola outbreak in 2013-2016 killed more than 11,300 people in West Africa, hitting Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone the hardest. Health authorities are keen to avoid a repeat of the epidemic.

People nervous about new outbreak

“The government has called on Guineans saying there’s no need to panic,” Conakry correspondent Karim Kamara told this week’s Africa Calling podcast, describing how the government has highlighted capacity and know-how built up during the last outbreak.

“People are really jittery,” said Kamara, recounting the fears of Guineans, adding that some “are not very assured by assurances given by the government”.

This latest outbreak started with a nurse in the town of Gouécké, Nzérékoré Region, in southern Guinea, close to the border with Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.

She had symptoms and sought treatment at a health facility, but was misdiagnosed with typhoid, according to a statement from the WHO.

Later she visited another health facility, but was diagnosed with malaria. The following day she went to see a traditional healer and died a few days later. She was also buried unsafely.

Stop burial practices                                             

The Guinean government sent health officials to the area, with authorities announcing measures including a halt to traditional burial ceremonies, the closure of markets, and restrictions on gatherings. Gouécké has also been put on lockdown.

Aid agencies and international non-governmental organisations have begun to prepare their responses to the outbreak.

The Red Cross in Guinea has 800 trained volunteers who are being mobilised to help with safe burials, according to Dr Aissa Fall, a regional health manager with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

“Those teams are trained on SDB, Safe and Dignified Burial, we have volunteers trained on collecting post-mortem samples and also volunteers for disinfection of houses and public places,” Fall told RFI.

Traditional burials were a significant source of transmission during the last outbreak, with washing and cleaning the body of Ebola victims helping to spread the virus through direct contact with bodily fluids.

“It’s critical right now,” said the IFRC’s Fall, speaking from Dakar. “We may have more than the current number of contacts because of this burial issue,” she added.

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is likely to make this Ebola outbreak even more difficult to contain, according to Fall. “It makes it more challenging as Covid-19 as already created negative impacts,” she said.

The twin threat of Ebola and Covid-19 is worrying many Guineans, correspondent Kamara told RFI. “They feel that the issue has doubled,” he said. “People really don’t know what they’re heading towards.”

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