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Red Cross: Attacks on Guinea Aid Workers Increase Ebola Risks

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - A health care worker, right, takes the temperatures of schoolchildren for signs of the Ebola virus before they enter their school in the city of Conakry, Guinea, Jan. 19, 2015.

FILE - A health care worker, right, takes the temperatures of schoolchildren for signs of the Ebola virus before they enter their school in the city of Conakry, Guinea, Jan. 19, 2015.

The International Red Cross said its Ebola workers in Guinea are being attacked an average of 10 times per month, endangering efforts to stop the spread of the disease.

In a statement Thursday, the International Red Cross said the most recent incident was Sunday in the town of Forecariah, western Guinea, where two workers were beaten while trying to conduct a safe burial for Ebola victims.

Safe burials are crucial to stopping the spread of the disease, the Red Cross said, because dead bodies can still transmit the virus.

"As long as people have misconceptions about how Ebola is spread, and continue to prevent volunteers from doing their work, we will not stop the disease," Youssouf Traore, president of the Red Cross Society of Guinea, told reporters.

Serious, scary incident

While attacks on Red Cross volunteers in Guinea are not new, the latest incident was particularly serious and scary, a Red Cross team leader told VOA.

Birte Hald, Red Cross team leader for Ebola coordination and support in Geneva, has just returned from West Africa. She told VOA the two volunteers were attacked by an angry mob.

Hald said there is still a lot of misunderstanding about how Ebola is spread, including by some who believe volunteers spread the virus while disinfecting houses with chlorine.

"All of a sudden, it runs like a bush fire where people start shouting that the Red Cross is carrying the Ebola and then they start attacking – either verbally abusing or even throwing stones or attacking with whatever they have at hand," she said.

"And, we have had a few cases where cars were burned and we have had a few Red Cross volunteers taken to hospital," Hald added.

Beefing up security

As a result of the recent attack, she said the Red Cross is beefing up security for its volunteers. She said aid workers also are consulting more closely with communities, local authorities and religious leaders to try to dispel myths and false rumors about the disease.

Meanwhile, the number of new Ebola cases in Guinea has risen in the past few weeks after a long, steady decline.

In its latest report, the World Health Organization said there has been a sharp increase of new Ebola cases in Guinea, with 65 newly confirmed compared with 39 the previous week.

The WHO said the increase has been driven mainly by transmission in the capital, Conakry, and in the western prefecture of Forecariah, where Sunday's attack occurred.

Since the Ebola outbreak began more than a year ago, the organization said there have been nearly 23,000 confirmed cases of Ebola, and 9,162 deaths in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The WHO said cases remain widespread in Sierra Leone, but have stabilized, while Liberia continues to report a low number of new cases.

The disease is transmitted through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.

Concerns of new flare-up

Hald said she is concerned the epidemic is not under control and could flare up again.

"Another concern is also that very soon, the next rainy season will start and ... it will make the roads impassable for prolonged periods of time. Secondly, we also know that the virus thrives in humid conditions," she said.

U.S. President Barack Obama said Wednesday he is withdrawing most of the remaining American troops deployed in West Africa to combat the Ebola epidemic.

The United States deployed a total of 3,000 personnel to set up Ebola treatment units and other infrastructure to fight the virus.

Obama said because the troops were so effective, all but about 100 will return home by April 30. The president said 1,500 personnel have already returned.

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