It was a story of suspense and expectation. Guinea had been waiting for 42 days, six whole weeks since the last reported case of Ebola had been declared negative.
As the epidemic proceeded, Guineans gradually took in the information available and paid heed to the advice. They learned to bring patients into medical facilities and to respect the instructions given on how to bury victims of Ebola.
Dr. Diawara Facely, responsible for coordinating the fight against Ebola for the Guinean Red Cross, described the impact made by Ebola Chono, the Internews-backed radio show.
“What brought me the most heartache was knowing people had so many questions, but there was no way for them to get answers. Finally they were angry at us. It was wrong, but it was like that. But today, this is no longer the case. I am saying this, not just to flatter Ebola Chrono, but it was you who put an end to this history of reticence. We could have saved lives if the press had been there earlier.”
Darkness before Light
By September 2014, it was becoming difficult to keep count of the dead, taken away by a strange disease that many were still ignorant of. With information so scarce, almost nonexistent, rumor held sway. What people did know, from the way they interpreted official statements, was that there was no vaccine and no medicine for this disease. There was no cure in sight, just a sense of hopelessness.
There was a fatal lack of trust. Doctors, journalists and humanitarian workers involved in the fight against Ebola became targets, accused of being the architects of Guinea’s misfortune.
The ignorance and misunderstandings brought tragedy. On September 16, 2014, in Womey, in the prefecture of N’zérékoré, south-eastern Guinea, a medical and media team was on a sensitization mission when an angry crowd launched its attack. Nine people were killed, including three journalists and two doctors.
“The first who took a stone to the head was the director of the Red Cross in N’Zérékoré,” said Christophe Milimouno, a survivor. “It was an indescribable stampede. The driver had bolted with the car. All my co-passengers died. I do not know how I escaped death.”
The situation was so extreme that the color white was seen as synonymous with Ebola, implicated in the spread of the virus. The population would even target white vehicles or motorcycles. “We had come to be afraid to wear white,” said Lamine Oularé, director of the rural radio station at Faranah in Upper Guinea.
For Dr Facély of the Red Cross, that kind of violence was the result of disinformation. Now, he concludes with relief, “information is finally here, to save lives.”