Billie Mcternan, journalist and AWDF writer traveled to Guinea to interview and visit grantee organizations given Ebola grants.
This article was published in The Guardian
With dusk descending, Fanta Condé and Mariam Touré arrive in the village of Fermessadou, in southern Guinea.
They are greeted by about 50 people, including the village chief, and presented with gifts of kola nuts, bananas and papayas in thanks for the work they did for the community during the Ebola crisis.
Condé is the secretary general of Cofrasad, a co-operative of 45 women’s groups working in agricultural production, while Touré runs another women’s co-operative, Badembere.
When Ebola spread in the forest region, Condé, Touré and their colleagues went out into communities to provide people with hygiene supplies funded by a grant from theAfrican Women’s Development Fund.
“We are very grateful for all that you have done for us,” says the chief. “But things are not yet back to how they were before.”
Many left during the Ebola crisis, deeming the village – which lies about nine miles from Kissidougou town – uncomfortably close to the epicentre of the virus outbreak. Two years later, some are still to return.
“Even we were scared to come here at first,” says Touré, out of earshot of the community.
Local women’s groups played a crucial part in supporting people in the region during the outbreak. From the markets to the mosques, from morning to evening, the groups went door to door and spoke on the radio, passing on information about Ebola and distributing handwashing kits.
“There are still many problems,” says Condé. “Three of our members were victims.”
A major problem for the groups is providing ongoing support to women who contracted Ebola, or to women who looked after people who were infected.
Odette Kamano, 40, lives in Guéckédou, and has received small donations from Cofrasad. She lost several family members to Ebola. After caring for her mother- and sister-in-law, she too was diagnosed with the virus.
She was in the Ebola treatment unit for two months. She returned home to 14 children, ranging in age from nine to 15. These included her own children and those her mother-in-law had taken in. She also had to take care of her husband who, after a serious injury, is unable to work.
To help make ends meet, she began making rice porridge to sell, but had to stop when people found out she used to have Ebola. She now sells ground almonds when she can.
“The stigmatisation is a big problem,” says Condé. “There is a woman I know who survived Ebola – she makes food for a living, but people don’t buy her food. She has no choice but to stop working.”
People in the region are in need of financial and economic support, as well as healthcare and psychological help.
Funding for the women’s groups dried up after the crisis was over. They are appealing for more funds to support local communities.
“Health workers paid a very heavy price,” says Dr Lamine Koivogui, director of the National Institute of Public Health. “They were infected because the infection control prevention measures were not mastered.”
Many mothers and wives who instantly became carers of the sick found, like Kamano, that such knowledge and training was not immediately available, a shortfall that put them in harm’s way.
Unicef, the UN children’s agency, is giving mobile phones to doctors so that they can monitor Ebola by transmitting data back to a central system. The agency is also training doctors and working with the ministry of health, and offering orphans and young survivors psychosocial and educational support and monthly cash transfers.
As night falls in Kissidougou, people gather in a hotel to watch Uefa Champion’s League highlights in a restaurant. Despite the handwashing stations set up outside – a reminder of what has been – things are getting back to normal.
But Condé says there is still much to do.“It’s not a war,” she says. “But it’s like war – it’s the same strategy.”