The Republic of Guinea’s first lady on Tuesday thanked Atlanta nonprofits for their ongoing efforts to meet her country’s dire health needs, which have grown even more acute since a deadly Ebola outbreak started there and spread to neighboring West African nations.
Djene Conde runs a charity largely focused on reducing infant mortality in a country where one in 20 children don’t live past one year, but those efforts have been put on the back burner as Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone struggle to contain a virus their ill-equipped hospitals weren’t prepared to meet.
It’s an unprecedented challenge for Guinea, which just beginning to get its footing as a new democracy. Mrs. Conde’s husband, Alpha Conde, was elected president in 2010, just two years after a bloody military coup d’etat, and has worked to enhance transparency, especially in the all-important mining industry.
Two days after Mrs. Conde’s visit to Atlanta, the president declared a national health emergency restricting movement around the country, where Ebola has claimed nearly 400 lives already.
Atlanta-based organizations had already been actively working in Guinea, but their representatives say the outbreak highlights the relevance of their engagement.
MedShare, a Decatur-based nonprofit that sends surplus medical supplies to hospitals in developing nations, received funding from Coca-Cola’s bottler in London to send a 40-foot shipping container to the country in May, its 1,000th sent overseas since 1999. Four containers have been shipped to hospitals in Guinea since 2007, along with more than 20 each to Sierra Leone and Liberia since 2004.
During a reception at the offices of Thompson Hine LLP, Medshare Vice President for International Relations Nell Diallo urged attendees to support Ms. Conde’s work by backing MedShare.
In Africa, hospitals often lack ample supplies to provide treatment, she said, and the burden of procuring them can be heavy for people who even before getting sick are living on less than $1 per day.
“You’ve got to go and find those things, bring them back to the hospital or clinic, and then have people treat you,” Ms. Diallo said.
Ms. Conde’s delegation visited MedShare’s Decatur headquarters and warehouse Aug. 11. The next day she went to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has been working alongside the World Health Organization and other groups to stem the spread of Ebola. More than 50 CDC staff are now on the ground in the region.
Though the virus can only contracted by close personal contact and the exchange of bodily fluids, not through the air, the CDC caused a stir locally when it was announced that two missionary doctors who had contracted the virus in Africa were being flown to Atlanta for treatment at the federal facility near Emory University.
In a proclamation read at the reception, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said the experience gave Georgians a small measure of empathy for what is obviously a much more dire situation in Mrs. Conde’s homeland.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your fellow Guineans as you confront this significant public health issue,” the governor’s statement read.
The first lady told Global Atlanta that Atlanta has a unique role to play in the current crisis and in Guinean relations with the U.S. in the future.
Aboubacar Balde, president of Atlanta-based Guinea-American Communities United, said there had been an outpouring of support and concern from the Guinean diaspora around the nation.
He was in the country when CDC representatives first arrived. “I was proud to say I’m from Atlanta,” he said. “To have them coming (to Guinea), it made me feel like the world is small and everything’s connected.”
Cynthia Jarrett-Thorpe, Sierra Leone’s honorary consul in Georgia, recently organized an educational phone conference with a CDC communications representative to educate her community of 5,000-10,000 people about Ebola – how it’s spread and what they should tell their relatives back home. She had 500 slots available, and the call was oversubscribed by about a hundred people.
Abetting the outbreak is a lack of information on how ebola is transferred, she said. People in Sierra Leone have been treating infected relatives in close quarters at home and performing ceremonial washings of dead bodies, putting them in close contact with the contagion.
Through the Carlton-Carew EP Foundation, where she is CEO, Ms. Jarrett-Thorpe is attempting to raise money for air drops of food and medical supplies to the Kissi people, a tribe living in some of the hardest-hit areas of Sierra Leone who have been isolated by travel restrictions.
Ms. Jarrett-Thorpe is also hoping to connect with the leaders of distant Kissi descendants who settled on Georgia’s Sapelo Island after being brought here by slave traders. Traditionally rice farmers who descended from a variety of African tribes, they are known as the Gullah in South Carolina and the Geechee in Georgia.
The Atlanta visit wasn’t completely overshadowed by concerns about the virus. Mrs. Conde also visited the American Cancer Society‘s headquarters to discuss the possibility of joint training programs to help address an increasing incidence of cervical and breast cancer in her country.
On a lighter note, Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves presented Mrs. Conde with honorary Georgia citizenship, prompting smiles from the first lady, who spoke only in French.
“I promise to come back,” she said.
The reception was jointly sponsored by Thompson Hine, MedShare and Africa Atlanta 2014.
Read the CDC’s Q&A on Ebola here.