Aid workers in Guinea-Bissau are trying to help contain an anthrax epidemic that has decimated cattle and killed four people. But with attention focused on political instability in the country before controversial elections, aid money to address the problem is lacking.
A small team from the British-based aid group Oxfam International left Senegal to help first-hand with the anthrax epidemic in northern Guinea-Bissau.
Team member Valerie Traori details for VOA the scope of the problem which began late last month: "The situation is disastrous and could be worse for the simple reason that in the northern region where the outbreak is occurring the communities there, the 12 villages so far infected are one of the biggest cattle herder regions in the country," she said. "What this means is beyond the deaths of humans with the decimation of cattle the communities here are losing their livelihoods and are losing their precious source of income."
She says with the rainy season just started, the bacillus anthracis bacteria could spread, because cattle cross regions and even go back and forth between Guinea-Bissau and Senegal to graze in the same areas.
Humans can get anthrax when they eat infected meat. In later stages, the disease causes lesions in the lungs and can kill quickly.
Guinea-Bissau's government has asked people in affected areas not to eat meat, but besides the four deaths, more than 80 people have already been infected, and 13 are being treated in health centers.
Catholic missionaries in the region have been providing some of the care. Mrs. Traori says more help is needed, and that focus on the scheduled June elections in Guinea-Bissau has distracted efforts to fight the spread of anthrax.
"What we are not satisfied with is the international response to the disease," she said. "What we have noticed is that the attention so far has been focused on the political situation in Bissau, which is overshadowing the situation for people in communities so the international community has not responded."
On its current one-week mission, the Oxfam team is bringing vaccines, antibiotics and syringes to inoculate cattle more than three years old, which are the most prone in spreading the bacteria, but it says it needs double the quantities it has to effectively stop the contagion.