CONAKRY (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - International donors wishing to help Guinea fight Ebola should use their money to strengthen the West African country’s health system and help it tackle future epidemics instead of building more Ebola treatment centers, a government official said.
The worst ever outbreak of Ebola has killed at least 9,177 people out of 22,894 recorded cases, mainly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, which have some of the weakest healthcare and disease surveillance systems in the world.
The World Health Organization said on Wednesday the number of new Ebola cases rose for the second week in a row in West Africa, nearly doubling in Guinea, suggesting declines earlier this year had stalled.
“We already have over 400 beds (in Ebola treatment centers), but the attendance is among the lowest of the epidemic, so let’s leave it at that,” government spokesman Fode Tass Sylla told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview in Conakry.
“Help us strengthen the health system, because after Ebola, all these treatment centers will disappear and Guinea will still be too weak to deal with the next epidemic,” Sylla said, adding that the government was in talks with all funding partners.
Guinea will need an estimated $296 million to eliminate Ebola and an additional $642 million to improve its health system to prevent future epidemics, according to a national action plan to combat the deadly virus.
Guinea has only 3,435 hospital beds for a population of nearly 11.5 million and only one doctor for every 100,000 people, according to an Oxfam report in November.
In the country where West Africa’s Ebola outbreak began, it can take aid workers up to six hours to move patients from remote villages to treatment centers over treacherous roads.
“We have to strengthen hospital and health posts in rural areas by training staff and stocking medicines and equipment. We need to reinforce the sanitary service and make sure messages on TV and radio reach the remotest communities,” Sylla said.
The latest treatment center, a 50-bed facility funded by the French government in Beyla, southeast Guinea, was completed in January when cases appeared to be declining. Guinea has asked for its operating costs to be reallocated, aid sources say.
“Donors are not flexible or quick enough to react to the fast-changing dynamics of this Ebola outbreak. They’ve allocated money for a purpose, and the money has to be spent no matter what,” said the head of a major medical charity, who declined to be identified.
“When planning an Ebola treatment center, donors have to budget for the center to run at full capacity for at least 6 months, so if it’s empty, there’s money left over from what would have been used for the day-to-day running of the center,” the aid worker said.
Editing by Katie Nguyen