How would you assess the impact of Ebola in the entire African region, particularly the 3 most affected countries?
Ebola outbreak was declared in March 2014, but Indian media did not do much at the time, although I tried to reach out. Media around the world put my country or our three countries in the spotlight. Anyway now everyone knows what’s happening in my country. In fact Ebola fever epidemic killed nearly more than 5,000 and infected close to 10,000 in the the countries- Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. And all those three countries are located in the West African region, so that deadly fever has affected the human relationship, and it has affected the country, the trade, it has affected all the activities in the country.
In West Africa, we belong to the community called Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) where there is no requirement of a visa, if you want to travel from one country to another. Therefore, there is free movement of people and free movement of goods as well. So those three countries are neighboring countries and can see how people are willing to move freely from one country to another. We used to do that, it is more or less the same, just that people have been divided into three territories. It is not easy to control the border. Ebola’s impact has been on every single aspect of human life in the country. It has changed even the way people are behaving. For instance in our country we greet people by a handshake. And today due to the Ebola scare, people are not shaking hands, even blood relations.
This disease has changed the way of life in these three countries. Thanks to the international communities including India, I feel that now it is under control and I was reading a report that said that from next week some vaccines will be available and they will start experimenting. We were supposed to organise the African Cup of Nations. A big soccer event that periodically takes place in Africa. Morocco was supposed to host the event but now the soccer authorities in the country are looking for other countries to host the event for Africa. Similarly, many international conferences that were supposed to take place in Africa have been postponed. Even here in India we were supposed to have the third edition of the African India Forum Summit but it has been cancelled due to the breakout of Ebola.
So basically this is my assessment, not only it has affected the three countries but the whole sub region as a whole.
Tell us about its impact on your country?
As far as my country is concerned, the latest statistics which came out yesterday, show that 1,659 people have been infected and 966 have died. The rate of mortality is nearly 58.2 per cent including medical personnel. 94 of the medical staff have been infected and 43 have died. So the rate is nearly 46.23 per cent- which is a lot!
What are the steps the government or people are taking to control the disease?
Lack of awareness is the main issue. We have to convince the population as a whole that this disease is curable although there is no vaccine yet, to cure. The main steps we have taken is the awareness campaign and which involves all the leadership, all political and religious leaders, the civil servants and the national bodies are involved in the fight. So today, according to statistics, the scope is now decreasing and is stablising. There are no more new infections.
This happened because of what the leadership did in the country. They increased the awareness campaign and told people what to do, what not to do, why to wash hands and what to do incase someone is affected- quickly to be taken to a treatment centre. And whoever that person has contact with has to be followed too, medically speaking. So that’s what the country has been doing, and we have received a lot of support from WHO, from France, from USA, from China, from India, from Canada and from so many countries around the world. So in the near future, before the end of the year, we are hoping to receive a good signal from my country. You see for instance, I was reading from the newspaper that Liberia has waved the state of emergency for medical reasons.
That state of emergency has been waved to allow people to move freely because they have assessed that the infection rate is stable and people more and more are understanding that yes the disease is curable - if you go early to the treatment centre, but if you stay home, you wont be cured and you will infect the people surrounding you as well. So that is what we have been doing, I feel that the campaign has been successful.
You mentioned that your country has received tremendous response from countries all over the world. Please elaborate.
Yes. From Asia: China, India and Malaysia ahve contributed trmemdously. India contributed up to 12.5 million USD to WHO and which has directly affected countries. And China did a lot as well- they sent logistics, money and even sent personnel. But even while we are talking about some countries making contribution I can’t call it absolute, it is just an overview. From west, France is on the front line. France is even establishing a hospital in one of the affected areas and the French foreign minister is in Guinea since yesterday as we speak.
USA has done a lot, they have sent 3,000 trucks to Monrovia in Liberia. United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands have sent money. Its a concern for everybody in the world as we have seen some cases in USA and also in Spain. People are travelling. People make contact and we cannot stop that. This deadly disease has to be fought strongly. Developing countries are suffering because the health infrastructure is too poor as compared to the developed countries you. So it is a huge cause for every one. And I really appreciate the contribution made by the whole world to fight the disease. And I am sure that in the near future, we will find the appropriate drug to eradicate it completely.
Can you please share with me, how do India and Guinea engage with each other. What kind of relationship do they have with each other?
I think that should have been the first question. Of course, India and Guinea are friendly countries. They share lot of things in common. Because they are all independent states and they belong to so many international organisations for instance United Nations, Non Aligned Movement and other organisations around the world, so the relationship has enough strategy and history behind it too. India was the first country to open its diplomatic mission in Guinea. Until 1988, India had an embassy in Conakry but for some reason it was closed down and currently your embassy in Cote D’Ivore, is taking care of Guinea.
As far as development is concerned, India has been funding so many projects in Guinea, in the sector of power (energy). India has been providing funding for the transportation sector. We have more than 100 buses from TATA. Since I am here, we will be working together. India will be funding up to $35 million in the sector of strengthening our health system and nearly $60 million in the sector of agriculture. Some projects are on in the sector of food processing, in providing fertilisers for agriculture, in providing machines for agriculture.
In the sector of education we have some students here. When it comes to international affairs and international issues, we support each other. So far we have upto 12-15 students studying in universities and high schools in India. And the number will be increasing as India is allocating every year, scholarship platforms for students from the 8th to the 12th standard. Although as countries, we use different languages, it is not a barrier. I feel that basically as a developing country, India, being one of the largest democracies in the world has inspired so many countries in Africa including Guinea.