Tag Archives: Disease

Guinea Debriefing – 2015

Market in the capital of Guinea, Conakry

Market in the capital of Guinea, Conakry

Historically much of western Africa south of the Sahara was broadly referred to as “Guinea” until colonization divided the region throughout the late 19th century. After centuries of rule by various African empires, perhaps most notably the Songhai, the French colonized Guinea in the 1890s. Guinea officially changed its name from French Guinea in 1958 when it gained independence after over half a century under French control. After breaking ties with France, Guinea was led by Ahmed Sekou Toure and his sole PDG party between 1960 and 1984. Toure pursued African socialism and pan-Africanism, initially siding strongly with the Soviet Union, but later courting the US during the Cold War as well. From 1984 until 2008 the country was helmed by military leader Lansana Conte, who like Toure, strongly suppressed political opposition. Guinea, like much of postcolonial Africa, faced tremendous economic obstacles and political strife throughout the second half of the 20th century.

Waterfall in Kindia, Guinea

Waterfall in Kindia, Guinea

Today, Guinea has a population of about 11 million, and its capital and largest city Conakry contains about 1.8 million citizens. About half of Guineans (4.7 million) are from the Fulani ethnic group, followed by the Mandinka (28%) Soussou (10%) and other smaller groups. The Fulani are the largest nomadic group in the world, and follow a code of behavior known as pulaaku that values altruism, patience, self-control, and hard work. Approximately 85% of the country is Sunni Muslim, followed by 8% Christians and 7% of indigenous religion adherents. Many Muslims and Christians in Guinea adopt or incorporate elements of local indigenous religion into their beliefs. Guinea retains French as its official language, and the local languages of Maninka and Fula are prevalently spoken.

In terms of education Guinea is one of the most illiterate in the world, as only 41% of adults can read and write. Primary school is mandatory for six years but the law is not enforced so many children, especially females, work or marry early. Polygamy is officially prohibited but according to UNICEF, more than half of Guinean females are in polygamous marriages, including nearly 30% of girls between the ages of 15 and 19. Guinea has a female genital mutilation rate of 97%, second in the world only to Somalia at 98%. Malnutrition is widespread in Guinea, and over two million Guinean children suffer from chronic malnutrition or anemia (lack of healthy red blood cells). In the 1990s, Guinea took in almost 300,000 refugees from the civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone which has had profound effects on the country to this day.

In 2010 while under the control of an interim military junta, 157 anti-junta protesters were massacred by state security forces in a football stadium. The incident led to international sanctions and widespread condemnation. Later that year opposition politician Alpha Conde was elected president in the first free elections in Guinea though there were calls of fraud and voting irregularities. Conde and his Rally of the Guinean People party maintained power when he was reelected for a second five year term in 2015. Political strife has continued intermittently, and in July 2013 nearly 100 were killed in clashes between the country’s two largest ethnic groups. Conde, a former professor, is a member of the Malinke ethnic group, and has focused on security reform and reform in the key mining industry.

Guineans in support of President Alpha Conde

Guineans in support of President Alpha Conde

Guinea was one of the worst hit by the 2014-2015 West Africa Ebola Virus, third to only Liberia and Sierra Leone. Over 2,800 were killed by the disease in Guinea before the World Health Organization declared the country free of Ebola in late 2015. Between the lack of health infrastructure, poorly developed economy, and intermittent political unrest Guinea has a myriad of challenges looking forward. Unfortunately, these are challenges shared by much of sub-saharan west Africa, and the outlook on regional assistance is bleak. The international community should support local sentiments and goals while assisting the west African nation. Investment in infrastructure, local businesses, and health initiatives will help stabilize and provide opportunity for the people of Guinea.

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West Africa: Ebola in Town

Ebola1

Aid workers preparing to treat Ebola victims, Guinea, West Africa

The international reaction to this year’s Ebola outbreak followed a similar pattern to previous deadly transmittable diseases. Initially downplaying or ignoring the problem eventually shifts into media overreaction and fear for the worst. The international community has been slow in such instances to take notice unless the death count reaches an alarmingly high number, or, more commonly, the chance that it could spread abroad and affect anyone becomes a possibility. Another typical pitfall is that the disease is viewed as a singularity, rather than a cause of a combination of other factors. Lack of education and awareness; an inadequate response from institutions; poor access to medical and basic services; all clash to create an environment where the spread of a virus can happen quickly. Above all, the reaction to an outbreak usually seeks to address the potential effects close to home while glossing over the broader issue.

 

Map of areas most affected by Ebola

Map of areas most affected by Ebola

What is Ebola? Ebola is an infectious disease with an 80-90% mortality rate first documented in 1976. The current iteration has killed over a thousand and infected twice as many, the vast majority of cases recorded in the West African countries of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, though several cases have also been reported in Nigeria. It is thought to be spread through the consumption of carrier fruit bats and other bushmeat and at present has no known cure or treatment. The two American missionaries who contracted the virus in West Africa attracted significant media attention upon being quarantined in US medical facilities in Atlanta. The disease is not easily transmitted under monitored conditions, but it is can be contagious upon contact with infected blood or other bodily fluids.

The outbreak occurring at present is not the first, but it is the largest and deadliest Ebola outbreak on record. Comparatively, Ebola is miniscule in fatalities and scope, but as it kills more directly than other diseases and because a lack of information on treatment has persisted the outbreak has stirred many fears. Because of passengers feared to carry the disease abroad, border points have been closed in Liberia and flights have been limited in West Africa. Furthermore, “if it recedes, it does not mean it is not present. You will see more outbreaks. It will be recurrent,” declares Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at CSIS. The greater problem is not containing the newest outbreak, which will be eventually accomplished, but rather addressing the issue at its source so that we are better equipped to handle the next virus outbreak, Ebola or otherwise.

Market worker selling bushmeat

Market worker selling bushmeat

Misunderstanding of the disease has resulted in worsening the problem. In Liberia, young men with clubs attacked a medical facility allowing 17 to escape. Superstition, government mistrust, cultural practices, and a lack of education have underlined and encouraged the transmission of Ebola. Many West Africans disbelieve the virus exists and will likely continue consuming bushmeat, thus increasing the chances of greater transmission. Addressing the roots of the cause such as the extremely low socioeconomic conditions that allow for such a disease to spread is the best long-term solution to preventing such problems in the first place.

Reacting to Ebola and other deadly transmittable diseases only if there is a chance it will affect one’s home country only further serves to isolate much needed attention and aid. On one hand ignoring a virus like Ebola will definitely worsen the problem, but treating it like an apocalyptic disaster before getting all the facts can be just as deleterious. Both domestically and internationally, people should familiarize themselves with the problem itself, but also the wider issues at hand. Treating Ebola in a vacuum and ignoring the socioeconomic, cultural, and political antecedents that allow for the setting for Ebola to spread is shortsighted. A comprehensive effort to assist both those affected and those under threat of infection should be undertaken, and a long-term approach to educating West Africans and dispelling myths on disease should help counter the obstacles that have slowed aid thus far.

 

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