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Ebola and Security in Guinea

As you’re probably aware, Cindil will be traveling to Guinea as part of her work for the Earth Institute. Like me, you probably had some concerns upon hearing this. Below is a quick FAQ that will hopefully alleviate some of those concerns, and address some common questions.

1. Are you crazy?

Nope! Cindil is not crazy (and neither am I, I think). Cindil has spent over a year working for the Earth Institute as part of the 1 Million Community Health Workers Campaign, where she has helped to craft policy relating to health workers in Africa. In order to do that, she has spent a lot of time researching useful topics like how health care systems work in Africa, how disease spreads, and what the proper protocols are for health workers to stay safe. As her assignment shifted to Ebola response over the last few months, she has only expanded on this knowledge base.

More than anyone else I know, Cindil is aware of the risks involved, and has the proper context to assess them.

2. Isn’t Ebola super contagious?

Ebola is considered to be less contagious than the seasonal flu. provides a pretty good summary:

“It mostly spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluids — vomit, semen, sweat or blood — of someone who is symptomatic and shedding the virus. This means that when someone is sick, you need to get their bodily fluids into a cut on your body or your mouth, nose or eyes. That’s why it’s the health-care workers and family caretakers who nurse the sick that have borne the burden of Ebola.”

The good news is, Cindil will not be going to Guinea to nurse the sick, or otherwise interact with them. She’s going to meet with high-ranking bureaucrats to help set policy. If you’re interested in learning more about Ebola in general, provides an easy to understand break down here.

3. Couldn’t she unintentionally interact with someone who is ill?

Anything is possible, but it is highly unlikely. Cindil will be staying in the capital city of Conakry, which has implemented a number of Ebola-related protocols to stem the spread. She won’t be wandering around the streets, or taking public transportation. Her destinations will primarily be government offices. Her method of travel? Private car, operated by a private security agent. In fact, her employers have been rather protective in this regard, and are encouraging her to give everyone (even presumably healthy people) a wide berth.

4. Aside from limiting chances of exposure, what other preventative methods can she take?

Personal hygiene goes a long way. That’s why Ebola outbreaks tend to occur in areas that don’t have a good understanding of hygiene, or don’t have access to resources like clean water/soap/etc. In addition to the obvious (wash your hands, don’t touch your face, etc), she is packing a box of latex gloves and an army’s supply of hand sanitizer. Which, yes, does kill Ebola.

5. What happens if she does get sick, or something else happens while in Guinea?

Private security and evacuation services are being provided by UMS, a major mining operation in Guinea. You might wonder why a mining company would be the best option, but that’s because in the US we have a large, established security infrastructure with a number of powerful agencies. In Guinea, when you want boots-on-the-ground logistical know-how, UMS is the way to go. If Cindil gets needs medical attention while there, she goes straight to their private docs- not to the public hospitals. They have guaranteed ability to evacuate Cindil out of Guinea, should it be required. It should also be noted that they switched to UMS specifically because their usual provider, International SOS, wasn’t bad-ass enough. UMS is also a major player in coordinating the Ebola relief effort, so they’re well aware of the best practices and relevant protocols.

6. But is the West really any better at treating Ebola?

Yes! We really are. While the death of one Ebola sufferer in the US is big news right now, it should be noted that the six other people who came to the US for treatment are still alive. There were a number of failures that took place related to the unfortunate death of Mr. Duncan, both on his end (lying about exposure) and local authorities (failure to respond quickly enough). The survival rate of someone being treated for Ebola in the West is far, far better than for someone treated in a developing country.

7. Does this benefit me?

Yes indeedy. The best way to prevent Ebola from spreading here isn’t to wall off the country and hide, but instead, to provide the affected countries with the resources necessary to fight Ebola where it is now. This is why landlords in NYC will spray your apartment for pests for free… because it’s better to knock them out at the source than hope they don’t spread to your place. Cindil is part of this important response.