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Rusal’s Guinea Ebola Response: Epidemic timeline

On 26 December 2013, an 18-month-old boy in Meliandou, Guinea developed an illness characterised by black stools, fever, and vomiting. Two days later, he was dead. A few weeks later, in January 2014, several other members of the boy’s family had developed the same symptoms and died. A chain of other people connected with the family – midwives, healers, hospital staff, and funeral parlour employees – also succumbed to this mysterious illness. And the chain of transmission continued in their social circles.

In March, thehospital staff leading the response to this mysterious disease alerted Guinea’s Ministry of Health and Médecins Sans Frontièresas the virus spread through South Eastern regions of Guinea, including Gueckedou, Macenta, Nzerekore, and Kissidougou. The World Health Organisation became involved and what first appearedto be an isolated family tragedy in a small village in Guinea was now an epidemic: Ebola. And this was no small-scale outbreak; the world had not seen its like since 1976.

Ebola soon spread beyond Guinea’s borders into Liberia and Sierra Leone. 28,652 people ultimately contracted the virus and 11,310 died. The terrible impact of Ebola was not just measured in human lives. As the wider world struggled with its response to the outbreak of Ebola, there was an outflow of foreign investment and subsequent economic decline in the countries affected. The World Bank calculated that the combined GDP of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone diminished in value by 2.2 billion dollars as Ebola tore through West Africa. Rusal was one of a few companies to remain in place and leverage its resources as part of the Guinea Ebola response effort.

NGO & Charity Response to Ebola in Guinea

As the epicentre of the Ebola virus, Guinea undoubtedly had a challenge on its hands. On 13 August 2014, a national emergency was declared in response to the virus.

As well as inherent challenges posed by an outbreak of a communicable disease such as Ebola, Guinea had a number of other issues to overcome. Guinea ranks at 179 out of 187 countries in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index. Even without the significant complication of the Ebola outbreak, Guinea was already beset by an under-developed healthcare system, high poverty and malnutrition levels and poor road infrastructure.These complicatedthe the Guinean government’s reponse to the Ebola epidemic.

With the threat of transmission so grave, not only in Africa but also to the rest of the world, a number of NGOs and charities became involved in the Guinea Ebola response effort.

The UN’s response, for example, focussed on activities centred on halting the transmission of Ebola, in Guinea and beyond – for example through contact tracing, a method which identifies, isolates and where necessary, treats those exposed to the disease.

Similarly, the World Health Organisation provided a comprehensiveresponse that included contract tracing, training multiple partners in the field in the correct way of managing Ebola and training 75 doctors who in turn could properly supervise other health workers.

International aid charity Médecins Sans Frontièresset up an Ebola management centre in Boké in Lower Guinea to support the Ministry of Health of Guinea. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies acted as the lead partner in safe and dignified burials, overseeing 2,080 in Guinea. The Guinean Red Cross also set up a mobile radio station and distributed solar-powered radios through which the people of Ebola could listen to public information broadcasts about Ebola and Guinea Ebola response efforts.

Other NGOs aimed to address more structural problems that had hampered the Guinea Ebola response. UNICEF, for example, supported the efforts of the government in Guinea to standardize water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure, especially in schools.

In a joint response from the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank, some 48,000 bars of soap and 12,000 bottles of chlorine were distributed to Ebola-affected communities in Guinea.

Rusal Ebola Response: Leading the Fight in Guinea

It was not just NGOs and charities seeking to make a difference in Guinea. Rusal’s response was instrumental in arresting the spread of Ebola in the country.

This was the latest chapter in Rusal’s long relationship with Guinea. As the world’s second largest aluminium producer, Rusal is a major player in Guinea’s bauxite and alumina industries. Rusal is one of the country’s largest private sector investors. In 2006, in response to Rusal’s role in supporting social and economic progress in the country, the government of Guinea awarded Rusal its status as a socially orientated company. Because of its ongoing commitment to Guinea, while many other companies fled West Africa as Ebola took hold, Rusal did the opposite: it helped defend its friend Guinea against the disease and took an active role in Guinea Ebola response efforts.

In 2014, the business funded the construction of the Centre for Epidemic and Microbiological Research and Treatment (CEMRT) in Guinea. Designed and constructed in just 50 days by Rusal specialists, with the assistance of experts from the Russian Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor), the centre was furnished with the most up-to-date medical equipment. Rusal was the only public company globally to initiate a major construction project of this kind in response to the spread of Ebola in Guinea and other affected countries.

Located at the site of the former Soviet-Guinean Institute Pasteur in theKindia region, it is now one of the leading centres of its kind in West Africa, with a focus on conducting research into highly dangerous communicable diseases such as Ebola, and in particular their detection, treatment and prevention. Boasting world-classfacilities, the centre includes an infection hospital, provisional hospital, a mobile laboratory and a blood and plasma transfusion department.

The centre, opened on 17 January 2015, quickly became an integral part of Guinea’s Ebola response as it was commissioned as a medical institution of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Guinea and was included in the Guinean national system aimed at preventing the spread of Ebola. During the period of the epidemic, the centre was responsible for the best response rate in Guinea. 62.5% of those treated for Ebola at the centre recovered, and many more have benefited from the trials of the Russian vaccine carried out at the centre.

The international contributions to the Guinea Ebola response showed that NGOs, charities and commercial organisations such as Rusal can, through a well-thought-out and coordinated strategy, help stop deadly diseases such as Ebola in their tracks. In December 2015, Guinea was declared Ebola free.