GUINEA CONAKRY.— On October 22, 2014, 38 Cuban doctors and nurses arrived in the Republic of Guinea in response to the international call made by the United Nations, World Health Organization and government of the country, to join the fight against Ebola. The President of the Republic of Guinea, Alpha Conde, offered statements to the Cuban press gathered at the Presidential Palace in Conakry, on the evening of April 1, regarding recent months, and the Coyah Treatment Centre, where the Cuban collaborators worked for five months and saved many lives, risking their own; in addition to the development and challenges of the epidemic which has been afflicting Africa’s western region, and the state of relations between both governments and peoples.
—Thank you for receiving us. We would like you, as President of the Republic of Guinea and current President of the Mano River Union, to explain the present situation regarding the Ebola epidemic in the three affected countries, especially in Guinea.
— I have always said that in order to defeat Ebola, there must be zero cases in all three countries; even if there is only one sick person in one of the nations, the epidemic can resurge. As we had fewer cases in Guinea the international community was mostly concerned about the situation in Liberia.
Later, France said it would help Guinea; Great Britain-Sierra Leona; and the U.S.-Liberia. But we have always demand or requested a global response, because there are more English speaking countries; France has also helped us a great deal, but as you all know the French are currently facing a difficult economic and financial situation.
“But from September the international community really began to mobilize. The situation was serious in the forest region, and three months ago zero cases were registered there. Unfortunately, due to our healthcare system it was not possible to carry out laboratory tests in order to find out that it was Ebola, if we had been able to we would have quarantined people in their districts.
“Only when those infected came to the Chinese hospital, and doctors who treated them died, did we think it could be Ebola and sent samples to the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, but by then the disease had already reached Conakry.
“At the beginning we faced multiple problems. Liberia didn’t have a strong healthcare system, as that country and Sierra Leone were suffering civil wars, therefore, at the beginning, sick Liberians came to receive treatment in Gueckedou, here in Guinea.
“That is to say, there was a lot of cross contamination; and now the same is happening in Sierra Leone, as there are houses on the boarder which have one door facing Sierra Leone and the other, Guinea.
“Here the doctors always told us that dialogue and communication must be prioritized, and to never use co-action programs. It has been noted that success has been achieved in the forest region without using this method. We knew there were sick people in Forecariah, and people that wouldn’t allow doctors to treat them. A solution had to be found with the use of police officers, not to pursue the sick but to stop those preventing doctors from reaching the sick. It is the sick people in Forecariah who are today infecting people in Conakry. As we didn’t confine anyone, people continued to move about freely. For example, one person travelled from Manferinyah to Siguiri and died there, and we confirmed that it was Ebola and that the deceased had infected two other people. Siguiri is on the boarder with Mail, it is very far away.
“So, today we can say that Libera has reached zero cases, except for the last recent infection. Sierra Leone is progressing a lot, but still has problems. We are also progressing, but also still have problems. As President of the Mano Rio Union, I have been fighting for all three countries.
“The second problem we have faced is that many people believed that the Ebola epidemic had ended and began to be negligent. It is easier to go from 100 to 10 cases, than from 10 to zero. Therefore, efforts must be increased in order to reach zero cases. This is why I recently declared a reinforced health emergency, as people lack discipline. That is why we decided that regardless of the cause of death, a laboratory exam be realized, even if the deceased was the victim of a traffic accident, and that the Red Cross corroborate that they did not die of Ebola.
“This is our situation. We must increase vigilance and reinforce the fight; we have also asked that support be strengthened, as we have seen many deceased, orphans and widows. The human and social costs have been very high, as well as the economic cost. In 2014 and 2015 we should have been solving other problems affecting the population, but then Ebola arrived and interrupted these plans.
“The third problem was the resultant contradictions. For example, when the Cuban doctors arrived there were people that said, ´Cuba has no experience with Ebola,´ but we know that the best doctors in Africa are the Cubans. I was in Venezuela, I visited the communities there, all the doctors and dentists were Cuban. It was the same situation in Brazil. And in 1960, Guinea was one of the first African countries to establish relations with Cuba, and since then we have had Cuban doctors.
“When the Russian laboratory arrived, some people said it wasn’t functional, but when we took over control we saw that it was, just like the others. The different organizations continued to react as they historically have. Ebola is something peculiar. Everyone had to unite and work together. It was very difficult to achieve genuine coordination.
“But with the help of many organizations, the CDC, Doctors Without Borders (DWB), the World Bank and above all the United Nations, we achieved a certain level of coordination.
“At the beginning we sent foreigners from ONGs to do the socialization work, but if you are a foreigner working in an unknown region, it will be difficult for you to convince people. People from the region must be used, for example the healers, elders, spiritual leaders, as it is easier for them to speak with the population.
“Fortunately we have now corrected this error. Therefore, we believe that with all these measures we and Sierra Leone will be able to reach zero cases, but while there continues to be movement of people, it will continue to be very difficult. We decided to implement coordinated efforts on both sides of the boarder. The Guinean Prime Minister met with the Vice President of Sierra Leone in order to put the plan into action. Our hope was to end the epidemic by March, unfortunately this has not been possible. We hope that the people are more cooperative.”
— The Cuban doctors have saved more than 150 lives. How would you describe the work carried out in the Coyah Center?
— We are very satisfied with the cooperation of the Cuban doctors. At the beginning, as Coyah was rather far away, some asked if they would be able to offer services there. But in the end it was decided that they would go there, and there is currently a large Ebola Treatment Centre in Coyah.
“People also said, the Cubans don’t speak French. But many Guineans have trained in Cuba so there would be no language problems if they worked with the Cubans. All the things people thought were obstacles didn’t really exist. The Cuban doctors are doing very good work.
“We greatly value the efforts of the Cuban doctors at theCoyah Centre. I know that it is very hard, as the fight against Ebola is difficult, but we hope that the Cubans will continue to work here. There are sometimes problems with the population at the Cholla Centre. This is very stressful for a doctor and that is why we are so grateful, because despite these difficult working conditions, they carry on as if there was no problem.”
— The friendship between the people and governments of Cuba and Guinea has a beautiful history. How would you describe the current state of relations between the two countries?
— Guinea was one of the first African countries to recognize the government of Fidel Castro. When the war in Angola began, and South Africa intervened, a meeting took place in Conakry between Presidents, Castro, Sekou Toure and Agostinho Neto, in which it was agreed that Cuban soldiers going to Angola, would make a stop in Conakry before continuing on their journey. Guinea was one of the principal proponents of the Tri-continental Conference which took place in Cuba, and was led by the late Ben Barka.
“I am scheduled to visit Cuba; unfortunately the Ebola epidemic has interrupted my plans. The Cuban Vice President reminded me of this in Angola and Malabo. I told him I will come to Cuba. And so, we wish to strengthen relations; not only to visit the country, but also to pay homage to Fidel Castro, for all the support he has given not only to Guinea, but to all the liberation struggles in Africa.
“We have always opposed the embargo (blockade) against Cuba and have always called for the lifting of the embargo in United Nations sessions. We were one of the first countries to condemn the Playa Girón invasion. Our solidarity with Cuba has always been total.”