Red Cross volunteers and staff in Guinea, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Senegal and Sierra Leone have stepped up surveillance and community sensitisation effort to contain a deadly Ebola outbreak in the region. 

To support their life saving activities, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has issued an international emergency appeal for 8.5 million Swiss francs.

IFRC Regional Director for Africa, Mohammed Mukhier,  said there was a serious risk of the virus spreading from Guinea to neighbouring countries. 

“Ebola does not care about borders. Close social, cultural and economic ties between communities in Guinea and neighbouring countries create a very serious risk of the virus spreading to Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone, and potentially even further,” Mukhier said.

“That’s why we are launching an integrated cross-border operation aimed at rapidly confining the outbreak to its current location and swiftly containing any eventual outbreak beyond Guinea.”

Communities alerted to deadly Ebola outbreak

In Guinea, Red Cross teams in N’zérékoré were mobilized to conduct safe and dignified burials for two people who were killed by Ebola. They also disinfected a local hospital and started efforts to create broad community awareness about the return of the disease in the urban areas of N’Zérékoré and in Gouécké.

There are an estimated 1.3 million people living in the health zone affected by the outbreak. The Guinea Red Cross and IFRC plan aims to support about 420 000 of them with a range of services, including community sensitisation, community-based surveillance, water, sanitation and hygiene, safe and dignified burials, infection prevention and control, as well as psychosocial support.

In surrounding countries, Red Cross actions will target an additional 6 million people. In Sierra Leone, a network of 200 Red Cross volunteers in Kambia and Kailahun are now on high alert and are conducting surveillance activities. In addition, an alert was sent to the four other districts – Kono, Koinadugu, Western Area and Pujehun – bordering Guinea and Liberia, where an additional 100 volunteers are preparing social community awareness activities.

In Liberia, in areas along the borders with Guinea, Red Cross volunteers are on high alert and are currently conducting awareness in communities. The most at-risk areas include Bong, Lofa, Nimba, Cape Mount, and Gbarpolu counties. Liberia Red Cross will be sending Personal Protective Equipment to the region.

In Mali, Red Cross teams will provide services such as surveillance and community sensitisation regarding the deadly Ebola virus. The Senegalese Red Cross is beefing up surveillance efforts at border points, while ramping up community awareness activities. 

In addition to enacting community response, surveillance and sensitisation activities, Red Cross teams are also concerned about the needs being created by localised efforts to limit movements in a bid to contain the outbreak. As a result of these public health measures, people near the epicentre are already in need of water, sanitation and hygiene services as well as food assistance.

“This outbreak is likely to complicate an already challenging situation. COVID-related containment measures currently being implemented have exacerbated food insecurity in the region and this may lead to the reluctance of communities to respect new preventive measures that are being put in place to contain Ebola,” Mukhier said.

READ: Ebola strikes West Africa again: key questions and lessons from the past

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Presh JM Reporter

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