Israeli in Guinea: Ebola Epidemic Is Spinning Out of Control

Villagers are fleeing as if it were a civil war, which increases the disease’s spread, Eyal Reinich says.

AP

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa is worsening as bodies lie in city streets and entire villages are wiped out, an Israeli based in Guinea says.

“I’ve been working with humanitarian-aid groups for 12 years and have been in Ebola-stricken areas four times, three of them in Guinea, but the current outbreak is the worst,” said Eyal Reinich of the Swiss branch of Doctors without Borders.

The disease, currently spreading across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, has a 90-percent mortality rate and no cure. Reinich isn’t optimistic about containing the outbreak of the illness, marked by diarrhea, bleeding and vomiting.

“This is the most virulent Ebola virus I’ve encountered,” he said. “We don’t know how to assess the scope yet, but the actual numbers are higher than the published ones. The outbreak is coming from all directions.”

Reinich, who has been in Guinea since May, spoke to Haaretz by satellite phone from the town of Guéckédou near the border with Sierra Leone and Liberia — the outbreak’s center.

“Entire villages have been wiped out,” he said. “You come to villages and only find bodies. You don’t know if all the inhabitants died or if some simply fled. It’s a virus with a 90-percent death risk in these regions and we don’t know what condition the people who have fled are in.”

The panic in the afflicted countries is making it hard to contain the epidemic, even before considering other scourges like the Lassa virus and malaria, which are also spreading.

“Villagers are fleeing as if it were a civil war, which increases the spread of Ebola,” Reinich said. “They disappear into jungles and other places and become vagrants. So we’re constantly finding the virus in places we didn’t know about.” In some cases, aid workers like local Red Cross people also panic and run, Reinich says.

In the cities, people are afraid to leave their homes. All social events and festivals have been canceled, places of entertainment and sports clubs have closed down, markets are desolate and several airlines have canceled their flights.

Visitors who feel they have to come, usually businesspeople, are carefully examined at the airport. Once they’re there, they shut themselves up in their hotel rooms.

In Liberia’s capital Monrovia, bodies are lying in the street. “The fear in the street is terrible,” Reinich said. “If an epileptic person falls, everyone reacts hysterically and nobody helps him.”

In the villages, residents have lost faith in Western aid organizations. “I’m in a very tribal area and in some cases they throw spears at us or wave machetes, warning us not to get near,” he said.

“Some of them don’t want any contact with white people. Some think we’re the ones who are spreading the disease, or that white people bring black magic, or that we come to drain their bodies of blood to take them to Europe for research.”

Despite the fear of being infected, many people with symptoms don’t visit the aid organizations’ clinics. The doctors are trying to identify as many virus carriers as possible and treat the 10 percent of patients who survive — without being infected themselves.

“We protect ourselves with plastic suits, gas masks and chlorine spray,” Reinich said. “In this hot weather the sealed suits make us sweat and lose fluids.”

The doctors regularly burn the suits and makeshift clinics, made out of tin, cardboard and plastic, to destroy the vestiges of the virus.

“The rainy season is delaying things. We’re stuck in the mud, the roads are impassable and the flowing water helps spread the virus,” Reinich said.

“There was a summit of presidents here that decided to close the borders, but actually the borders are wide open. All the conditions for letting Ebola spread further exist.”