(IPS) The whole village of Gueyede in south-west Côte d’Ivoire gathers under the tattered roof of a shelter as the rain drizzles outside, and listens carefully as sub-prefect Kouassi Koffi talks.
“We are not allowed any complacency. You might not know Ebola. And it is better that you don’t,” says Koffi, the highest governmental authority of the area, through translator Serge Tian.
Koffi explains how one can contract the virus and how to recognise the basic symptoms of Ebola hemorrhagic fever.
He has held hundreds of meetings like this since the first Guinean cases of Ebola appeared last March. He travels from village to village in the Tiobli region he is in charge of, often visiting the same village two, three or four times, to utter the same message.
After the stop at Gueyede, IPS will follow him in another village, to answer the same questions from locals with well-prepared lists.
“It is a lot of work. But I think the population gets the message as we discuss [Ebola],” Koffi tells IPS as he drives his SUV on a particularly bad road.
His peer sub-prefects and prefects hold the same meetings in other Ivorian regions. This West African nation has had no cases of Ebola yet. But the Liberia border is few kilometres away. And the epicentre of the current Ebola outbreak is not more than 100 kilometres in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
“We should not wait to have a first case of the illness to take measures. Public mobilisation is important as the state cannot be everywhere,” said the Health Minister Raymonde Goudou Coffie during her last press conference on Thursday, Aug. 14.
Two of out of the four countries hit by the current epidemic, now declared out of control by the World Health Organisation (WHO), share a border with Côte d’Ivoire. Nigeria is the fourth country in West Africa that has had cases of Ebola.
And many worry that Côte d’Ivoire will soon be the next country to be hit by the most severe outbreak of the illness since its discovery in 1976. So far, there have been more than 1,000 deaths and the number of infected people is expected to soon hit 2,000. However, WHO said Friday, Aug. 15 that those numbers were “vastly underestimated”.
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