Covid-19: Five questions to Krista Verstraelen Resident Representative in Guinea | Enabel - Belgian Development Agency

"The challenges in Guinea are enormous. That's why Enabel has redirected all its current projects towards actions in response to COVID-19."

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Five questions to Krista Verstraelen  
Resident Representative in Guinea
Guinea, like other countries across the globe, is hit by Covid-19. What are numbers telling us today about the pandemic in the country?

Statistics of 19 May 2020 from the National health security agency reported 67 new Covid-19 cases in Guinea. This figure, added to the cases tallied since the disease appeared in the country on 12 March, brings the total to 2,863 contamination cases. 1525 have recovered and a total of 18 people died of Covid-19. The number of new cases has increased considerably. It is hard to curb the pandemic. If I were to compare Guinea to other African countries – I prefer to limit the comparison to this – I would worry. The country is among the hardest hit on the African continent. It ranks 8th in absolute numbers. If you compare the total of positive cases to the population and consider the two-month period during which the disease has spread, the situation is even more worrying.

What challenges is Guinea's health system facing in the fight against the Coronavirus?

Guinea experienced the Ebola epidemic in 2014, with 2,500 victims. This terrible ordeal of five years ago has led us to believe that the country is better equipped to deal with possible future health crises. But the management of Covid-19, despite the measures taken by the national authorities, shows that Guinea’s health system is not well-prepared. It can be said that in many ways the Ebola experience has not been capitalised on. 

Indeed, Enabel Guinea and the University of Conakry conducted the very first study to evaluate the level of preparedness of Guinea to face the new Coronavirus. The idea was to use the reality on the ground and to adjust the response accordingly. This study, conducted in various parts of the country and with a representative sample of the population, shows that health centres are not well equipped, that healthcare workers are not properly trained and that personal protective equipment is not available. In addition there are issues with screening: It was deployed late, the available tests fall short of the actual needs in the field, and the tracing of contacts is failing. The field epidemiology training programme indicates that, as of today, 40% of positive test cases have 'disappeared in the wild' and refuse to be cared for. So, we can say that the challenges are enormous.

How does the population of Guinea behave with regards to the disease and the emergency measures taken by the government?

Overall, the population is doing quite well in the face of the pandemic. The study that I mentioned also assessed attitudes towards and perceptions about Covid-19 and showed that a part of the population of Guinea minimises the pandemic in their country and believes that it is ‘a white people’s disease’.

The political crisis linked to the combined legislative and referendum elections of 22 March has had a strong impact on the course of the pandemic and the behaviour of the population towards it. There has apparently been a breakdown of trust between a part of the population and the rulers. Such a lack of trust is not the best ally in times of crisis. Added to this is the poverty of the majority of the population, which is in daily quest for food and therefore hard to lock down. All of this seems to have contributed to the late response of Guinea. The measures taken by the government, the state of health emergency, travel restrictions and the wearing of masks in public spaces are increasingly respected. Awareness campaigns have undoubtedly played a major role. The fear of having to pay fines too.

"40% of people who test positive refuse to be treated."
What actions are being taken by the Government of Guinea to limit the spread of the epidemic?

The Government declared the state of health emergency on 27 March. Since, the borders have been closed. Only cargo, humanitarian flights and ‘special’ flights are allowed to land at the airport of Conakry. A curfew between 9 pm and 5 am was put in place. The wearing of masks has been made mandatory in public places. Travel, particularly long-distance travel, has been drastically restricted and gatherings of more than 20 people have not been allowed.

There are also test measures for detecting cases, quarantine measures and measures for tracing contacts. In this matter, much progress can still be made.

What has Enabel done to support the Government in its Covid-19 response?

Because of the emergency situation caused by the progress of Covid-19, Enabel has reoriented all of its projects towards Covid-19 response actions. From early on, we have endeavoured to support the national response plan through the production and dissemination of awareness-raising messages, also in local languages, support to NGOs on the ground and the provision of thousands of masks and hygiene kits to households. I must add the rapid situation analysis I was talking about a little earlier as well as the organisation of a hackathon that attracted a hundred start-ups and helped develop digital solutions to stop the pandemic.

In the coming days, we will deploy a mobile application (Android and iOS) that will contribute to the outreach and information efforts. It has a playful dimension and will allow internet users to learn more about Covid-19 in an entertaining way.

Enabel Guinea is also heavily investing in economic resilience and particularly focuses on food security and employment as part of our support to entrepreneurship, the red thread in the bilateral portfolio that we are rolling out.

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