Tracking Ebola: the first case in Mali

A great guy I met in Bamako just informed me that Ebola has now been confirmed in Mali, which shares a big chunk of Guinea’s border. It’s actually quite surprising that it hasn’t hit sooner. But it’s exactly the kind of situation that never should have happened, but keeps happening anyway, due to a lack of adequate protocols on the ground; hundreds of miles of public-transport travel, with a sick baby that has no idea about contagiousness or public safety.

But as the Western public focus on Ebola turns away from West Africa and inwards to Canadian and American policies, we are losing sight on how bad the situation really is there. Instead of re-investing and containing the disease at its source, we are scrambling to make sure it doesn’t cross over onto our doorstep. Obviously, we are developing necessary and important policies, but what’s happening to the effort in the area where this 2-year-old girl in Mali marks a staggering 10,000 cases, is failing completely to address the issue.

My questions lately have been,

Where is the call to action? Where are the organizations on the ground, and why aren’t they clamouring for help? 

And, well, they have been. Kind of. But in a very generalized, and non-population-targeted sense. For example, Médecins Sans Frontières has been doing incredible work from day 1, and early on, had their requests for increased funding and manpower essentially rejected as overreacting by the WHO. From then, we heard over and over that those are the things that they need. But to an average Canadian, we don’t respond well to that. We aren’t really the “take initiative” kind of folk. When we read an article stating that an organization like MSF is absolutely at the end of their rope, that they need assistance, new recruits, and more money, it allows us to think, “Gosh, why doesn’t the WHO do something about that?” But why, when Hurricane Katrina hit, or the 2010 Haiti earthquake happened, was the public motivated to donate millions of dollars to the cleanup relief efforts? More specifically, why isn’t that happening NOW?

Why? Because we need specific and targeted requests. 

We need dollar figures, that give each person an opportunity to text to donate, round up their bill at the grocery store, or charge their card through an online forum, to reach the financial goal for enabling success in the region. And we need short- and long-term recruitment strategies that don’t just put the question out into the air, but really reaches out to every single tradesperson and healthcare worker out there, and asks them “How about YOU? Can you do this?”

Because if we work with your employer to negotiate an 8-week leave, and can provide you with a comprehensive training package that will address all of your safety concerns, I don’t see why this can’t work.

And I frankly just don’t see why this isn’t happening. MSF, Unicef, and the Red Cross all have dedicated recruitment and fundraising departments, but they seem to me to be extremely underutilized, as you can only find the available avenues for donation and volunteering when you actively search for it. And there is NO apparent collaborative approach. Nobody’s matching donations, there are no viral social media campaigns.

We needed action months ago, but it’s really spiralling out of control. If you want public health measures that address the spread of this virus, don’t forget that we’re not the victims here, and while yeah, maybe we will be, but the course of action is not just to bolster our own measures, but primarily and most importantly, target the source. 

So despite the lack of a coordinated fundraising campaign, I urge all of you to take a minute and think about making a donation to fighting the viral spread in West Africa, even $1 is enough. It is better than nothing.

If you don’t know where to donate, consider MSF, the CDC, or the Canadian Red Cross (which is actually offering a dollar-for-dollar matching by HSBC until October 31!).

Image

On the Geba River: Bissau to Bubaque and Bolama

So I came to Bissau with the intention of taking the ferry to the island of Bubaque, which is part of the Arquipélagos dos Bijahós. From there, I’d maybe check out some other islands, if transportation was available. There are some salt-water dwelling hippos out there somewhere, which is obviously cool and worth seeing.

20140325-203433.jpg
Happily on the boat at first

But, it was not meant to be.

Instead, the engine broke down after only an hour or so (which is really only 45 minutes away by smaller, more efficient pirogues), and we ended up sitting on the boat for the remainder of the day, while various people attempted at various times to revive our hopeless engine.

It’s always a good sign when the guys are working on the engine even before you’ve left the dock…

I certainly noticed all the clanging around the engine in the couple hours I was waiting for us to leave, and probably should have taken this into more serious consideration, but it seems so normal here that I didn’t think too much of it.

20140325-203739.jpg
At least the mechanic had a large support network..

Lesson learned. After about 8 hours stalled just outside the port, our rescue-pirogue finally appeared, but instead of immediately embarking and returning to shore, a technician came on board and attempted to fix our poor engine. But to no avail.

20140325-204824.jpg
Onto the rescue-pirogue, a sketchy endeavour, which afterwards reminded me of boarding a lifeboat from the Titanic…

By this time, I had been chatting with my neighbour, Louis, a middle-aged Romanian NGO worker, for approximately 12 hours, and we were getting to know each other quite well. He offered me one of the two empty rooms he has in the house he rents, which I gladly accepted. And it seems that he has been enjoying the company, as he’s almost suffocating in his desire to take care of me. He has been making my meals, taking me out, hasn’t let me pay for anything, and has offered to bring me with his team in 10 days to a private island, to hang out for the weekend while they conduct a seminar. This would be extremely expensive, if not downright impossible on my own. In the meantime, I’ve planned a little side trip to see the country before we go, and he’s also been setting me up with all his contacts along the way.

20140325-202509.jpg
This old colonial house in Bissau is now an office for ECOWAS

20140325-203112.jpg
So Portuguese!

20140325-205136.jpg
Spent one night in Bula, which was small but nice

20140325-205634.jpg
Bula

20140325-205643.jpg
Bula

My first stop on my little tour before the private island was Bolama. The pirogue was meant to go this afternoon, but instead we waited on board for a couple of hours before determining that there was in fact too much wind to proceed.

20140325-205913.jpg
Back at the port!

20140325-210109.jpg
Actually, not only do you never know if your boat will go, you also have to play a game of “wait for the tide to come in” before you can even think about leaving

Maybe I’m just being superstitious, but it seems that not meant for boat travel in this country. Ironic, for a girl who grew up on an island.

As well, with this whole Ebola thing happening right now, I have been debating whether it’s even a good idea to stay in this country at all, since the disease originates next door. So I’m thinking I will likely forgo the islands, and the area in the southeast (really the only area left worth seeing).

Texts from my dad and Kyle are pushing solidly in the cautious direction, which means skipping Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire, and instead heading back to Senegal, and crossing through Mali into Burkina Faso. From there I could rejoin the original track, and visit Ghana, Togo, Benin, and I’m thinking now, maybe Niger, Nigeria, and Cameroon…. decisions, decisions.

But for tonight, I’m back at the very lovely (though, of course, slightly expensive) Pensao Creola. Though I have saved enough money last week to afford this night of luxury 😉

20140325-210402.jpg
Heaven!