Ivory Coast shows how to keep Ebola at bay | Africa | DW | 20.05.2015
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Ivory Coast shows how to keep Ebola at bay

Ivory Coast has remained free of Ebola, although thousands have died in neighboring Guinea and Liberia. The Ivorian government was quick to launch an awareness campaign and its efforts seem to have paid off.

Ever since Madame Kra first heard about Ebola in the news, she only leaves her house in the capital Abidjan when absolutely necessary.

"They say the illness is fatal, that's why everyone keeps their distance," she says. A plastic bucket full of water stands on a table in her house, next to it are soap and a disinfectant that, according to the label, kills 99.9 percent of all bacteria. The yellow liquid can be found throughout the country, at every wash basin, at entrances to banks, offical buildings and supermarkets, and sometimes also between the mustard and ketchup on a restaurant table.

Madame Kra has impressed on her five children that they must not shake hands with anyone, even if that is considered rude. If friends invite them round, they should not eat anything. "You can't know if your friend is perhaps infected and passes it on to you. Death is everywhere here and everyone is afraid to die," she said.

A woman sits in a room with posters on the wall and a large container of disinfectant

TV spots, posters, disinfectant everywhere - Ivorians have been getting the message

Swift action saves lives

Life has changed in Ivory Coast because of Ebola, even though, so far, no one has become infected. The country borders on the west with Guinea and Liberia – together with Sierra Leone, the worst affected countries.

Since December 2013 some 11,000 people in West Africa have died from the virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) has admitted to shortcomings in the fight against Ebola. Faster, more effective help could have saved many lives. At the WHO's annual assembly this week in Geneva wide-ranging reforms were announced.

One thing can be said of the Ivorians at this time – they are being very careful. They avoid physical contact and pay great attention to hygiene. In churches and mosques, believers now bow after prayers rather than embrace one another as had been the custom. When the first cases of Ebola occurred in Guinea and Liberia almost 18 months ago, the Ivorian government was swift to react. Delegations made up of health experts and local politicians travelled everywhere, even to the most remote villages, to inform the population about the disease. From August 2014 planes from the affected countries were banned from landing in Ivory Coast and border crossings were closed.

Two women selling fish at a market

A ban on bush meat has caused business to boom for Ivory Coast's fish traders

Police raids

Everywhere there are large posters with information about Ebola and how people can protect themselves. Information about the disease and free emergency phone numbers constantly roll across TV screens. At stations and other public places, there are improvised hand-washing facilities. Often it is also possible to have one's temperature checked. Many people are aware of the risks and regularly wash their hands, says Daniel Spalthoff who is responsible for water supply and sanitation with the UN's children's agency UNICEF. "It is highly probable that these measures have saved human lives," he told DW.

Since the outbreak of the epidemic, the hunting of wild animals, as well as the sale and consumption of their flesh has been banned. Anyone breaking this rule can expect to pay a hefty fine or may even get a prison sentence.

Mori Toure is a tour guide and driver in Abidjan. He recently witnessed a raid at a restaurant.

Vegetarian Mori Toure

Mori Toure has stopped eating meat

"Police searched the fridges and looked in all the cooking pots to see what was being prepared," he said. Like many Ivorians, Toure now eats no meat at all, not even chicken or beef. Instead, his wife cooks fish and lots of vegetables. The couple currently keep visits to family and friends to a minimum.

A ringing reminder to ‘Stop Ebola'

Last summer, well-known Ivorian blogger Israel Yoroba posted a song against Ebola on the Internet. The video clip shows photos of quarantine stations in Ebola-affected regions, with patients attached to a drip and helpers wearing protective clothing. A young man runs through the streets of Abidjan. "If Ebola gets you," he sings "you get a fever and start to bleed." The song text tells people to take care as the virus is very dangerous and can kill, and everyone needs to be informed. For the 33-year-old Yoroba, music is an effective way of reaching as many people as possible.

He took the text from a health ministry information leaflet. "It's not only the state that needs to act. Ebola affects the whole country and I wanted to do something to support our government's awareness campaign," Yoroba said. A large Ivorian mobile phone provider now offers the song as a ring tone for free. Between three and four million people now hear the message "Stop Ebola" every time they get a call.

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