With eight confirmed cases of Ebola reported in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is facing an unprecedented epidemic regarding the distribution of the disease, which is present in several locations in Guinea.
To date, Guinean health authorities have recorded 122 suspected patients and 78 deaths. Other cases, suspected or diagnosed, were found in Sierra Leone and Liberia. The outbreak features the Zaire strain of the virus, the most aggressive and deadly. It kills more than nine out of 10 patients. In addition to Conakry, there are cases in Gueckedou, Macenta, Kissidougou, and Nzerekore.
"We are facing an epidemic of a magnitude never before seen in terms of the distribution of cases in the country,” said Mariano Lugli, coordinator of MSF's project in Conakry.
MSF continues to strengthen its teams in Guinea. By the end of the week, there will be roughly 60 international field workers experienced with addressing hemorrhagic fever divided between Conakry and in the southeast of the country.
Among the field workers are doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, and water and sanitation experts, as well as anthropologists. In addition, more than 40 tons of equipment have been flown into the country to try to curb the spread of the disease.
"MSF has intervened in almost all reported Ebola outbreaks in recent years, but they were much more geographically contained and involved more remote locations,” said Lugli. “This geographical spread is worrisome because it will greatly complicate the tasks of the organizations working to control the epidemic."
In Conakry, MSF has strengthened support for the isolation of patients at the referral hospital of Donka, in collaboration with the Guinean health authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO). Other patients in other health structures are still hospitalized in non-optimal conditions and isolation must be reinforced in the coming days.
The teams are also looking for a suitable place to establish a new structure to further support local health authorities. At the same time, MSF has already begun to identify people who may have been in contact with existing patients. The search for potential new patients and, if necessary, their isolation, is the only way to break the chain of transmission of the virus. There is currently no vaccine against or treatment for Ebola.
MSF rapidly deployed teams over the last two weeks to the towns of Guekedou and Macenta in the southeast of Guinea. It also established two structures for patient isolation to help control the spread of the virus. Raising awareness and identifying new cases continues with the help of the community.
"To stop the outbreak, it is important to trace the chain of transmission,” said Michel Van Herp, an MSF epidemiologist currently in Guekedou. “All contacts of patients likely to have been contaminated should be monitored and isolated at the first sign of infection. It is important that the Guinean authorities and the WHO help medical facilities put in place all necessary hygiene measures."
MSF has worked in Guinea since 2001, supporting the treatment of HIV/AIDS and malaria.