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Guinea's Health Minister Says Ebola Situation 'Improving'


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. There has been some welcome good news in the fight against Ebola. The number of new cases in the worst affected countries has been declining, according to U.N. figures. In Guinea, one of those countries, schools that have been closed since March are set to reopen tomorrow, but there are still pockets of denial and resistance there about the virus. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is back from Guinea's capital, Conakry, where she first reported last year. Ofeibea, schools reopening sounds like a good sign. Do people there feel like the tide has turned?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: In principle, yes. Schools reopening after more than six months being closed because of Ebola should be a good thing, but, of course, parents are worried because of continuing transmission, although, the number of cases is down. And if their children, for example, show signs of what might be malaria or flu or cholera, they're the same initial symptoms for Ebola. You know, you might have a sore throat, you might have heavy limbs, you might have a headache. So although parents are saying they're happy their kids are going back to school, they're still worried because Ebola is still real here in Guinea.

RATH: We saw Liberia go from chaos to dwindling numbers of Ebola cases. Experts are saying Sierra Leone may be turning a corner. It seems like we're hearing less though about Guinea.

QUIST-ARCTON: And indeed, here in Guinea, there is still resistance and denial as you said, Arun, in your introduction. And the prime minister has said that those who keep Ebola patients hidden at home, or those who try to conduct secret burials - because a dead body is equally toxic as somebody suffering from Ebola - that has to stop. That secret funerals of people who have died of Ebola has to stop. And they're threatening - the government is threatening to prosecute those who continue this.

RATH: So what else does the government need to do now?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, they have launched a new campaign. In French it's zero Ebola en soixante jours - that is no Ebola cases within 60 days. It's been a year - a long year - of Ebola. And complacency might set in there saying to Guineans no, this is the moment where it's got to go to the community level. The imams, the religious Muslim leaders, church leaders who have got to galvanize you and tell you that Ebola is still here. Until we have zero cases of Ebola we can - we are a threat to ourselves and a threat to our neighboring countries, Syria Leone and Liberia.

RATH: Finally, what changes do you see from the last time you were in Guinea?

QUIST-ARCTON: I'll tell you, surprisingly, we were at this huge launch of this campaign yesterday. There were no buckets around, no buckets with chlorinated water, which I saw everywhere when I was last in Guinea, and people were even shaking hands. And yet, Guineans, Sierra Leoneans, and Liberians have been told not to touch. Instead, they usually salute by knocking elbows or by holding up their arms to their chest to say hello. We saw people shaking hands. I must say that shocked me.

RATH: NPR's Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton on the line from Guinea, Conakry. Thanks so much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.