West Africa turns page on Ebola

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

CON­AKRY — Chil­dren on Mon­day trick­led back to school in Guinea, where the Ebola epi­demic broke out in De­cem­ber 2013, as west Africa cau­tiously be­gan turn­ing the page on the deadly out­break.

Schools in neigh­bour­ing Liberia will re­open on 2 Fe­bru­ary, while Sierra Leone, the coun­try with the largest num­ber of Ebola cases, has yet to set an of­fi­cial date.

The three coun­tries have borne the brunt of the epi­demic, rep­re­sent­ing 99 per­cent of the more than 8 600 deaths in the worst-ever out­break of the haem­or­rhagic virus. Fi­nally, the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion has re­ported a de­cline in in­fec­tions.

Over­all, at least 22 000 peo­ple have so far been in­fected, ac­cord­ing to the WHO.

Health kits Guinea de­cided last week to en­cour­age at least 2.5 mil­lion pri­mary and sec­ondary school stu­dents to re­turn to school, four months af­ter the nor­mal Oc­to­ber start of the aca­demic year. But ini­tial at­ten­dance was low.

Ge­og­ra­phy teacher Nabe Karamou, said last week’s an­nounce­ment had taken many by sur­prise - teach­ers and stu­dents alike.

“I never re­ally even ex­pected [classes] to restart,” he told AFP at his school in a sub­urb of Con­akry, the Guinean cap­i­tal.

The school’s prin­ci­pal, Ibrahim Bah, noted: “We are in the mid­dle of the month and it does not work [fi­nan­cially] for many fam­i­lies.”

The schools have been pro­vided with health kits con­tain­ing chlo­rine, ther­mome­ters and soap, while teams will mon­i­tor stu­dents to de­tect pos­si­ble in­fec­tions, the gov­ern­ment said.

Safety ar­range­ments But Fanta Ca­mara, who has a child at another Con­akry school, was du­bi­ous.

“I am not con­vinced with the safety ar­range­ments for stu­dents. I am head­ing back with my daugh­ter,” she said.

On Satur­day, Guinean Pres­i­dent Al­pha Conde threat­ened to ar­rest those who re­fused to com­ply with Ebola pre­ven­tion cam­paigns.

“We have been put­ting our mes­sage out for a long time, but there are peo­ple who don’t want Ebola to end,” he said, adding that se­cu­rity forces had been or­dered to make ar­rests if peo­ple re­fused treat­ment.

Vi­o­lent re­ac­tions to Ebola are fre­quent in Guinea, es­pe­cially in the south, where ten­sions are high be­tween lo­cal groups and the cen­tral gov­ern­ment. An an­gry mob last week killed two men and burned their bod­ies, con­vinced that they were in­fected with Ebola.

‘The bat­tle continues’ Mean­while, Mali, which along with Sene­gal and Nige­ria had a mi­nor Ebola scare, was able on Mon­day to de­clare it­self Ebola-free af­ter 42 days with­out any new cases.

Sene­gal and Nige­ria had pre­vi­ously al­ready done so.

“We have no right to let down our guard. The bat­tle continues,” said Ibrahima Soce Fall, the head of the Malian of­fice of UNMEER, the United Na­tions Ebola task force.

The warn­ing ap­par­ently fell on deaf ears for some res­i­dents, who could be seen greet­ing each other by shak­ing hands.

“Shak­ing hands is a tra­di­tion here, but Malians would do well to keep to the rec­om­mended hy­giene habits,” said shop­keeper Mo­hamed Toure.

In Sierra Leone, the gov­ern­ment launched the sec­ond phase of its anti-ebola cam­paign, the Na­tional Ebola Re­sponse Cen­tre (NERC) said.

De­spite the signs of progress, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and in­ter­na­tional agen­cies have urged con­tin­ued cau­tion. Malian Health Min­is­ter Ous­man Kone called on peo­ple and health of­fi­cials “to con­tinue ba­sic hy­giene and pro­tec­tive be­hav­iours”.

“We are cap­i­tal­is­ing on the mo­men­tum gen­er­ated to kick out Ebola as the over­all sit­u­a­tion is im­prov­ing dras­ti­cally,” Yahya Tu­nis, NERC Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Of­fi­cer, told AFP. — AFP

A health care worker (right) takes the tem­per­a­tures of school chil­dren for signs of the ebola virus be­fore they en­ter their school in the city of Con­akry, Guinea on Mon­day.

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