Geneva. - The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is deeply concerned about continued violence perpetrated against its volunteers in Guinea. Due to the fear and mistrust surrounding Ebola, Red Cross staff and volunteers have regularly been attacked by scared communities. As infection rates are on the rise again after a series of declines, it is crucial to keep the efforts to stop the disease from spreading up. A backlash against volunteers hinders progress. The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday that Sierra Leone had registered 76 of the 144 new cases, Guinea 65 and Liberia three.
The most recent incident took place on Sunday 8 February in the town of Forécariah, Western Guinea. Two Red Cross volunteers were beaten while attempting to provide a safe and dignified burial in the community. An average of ten attacks per month have been committed against Red Cross volunteers in Guinea since last March, ranging from verbal to physical assaults.
"Red Cross volunteers in Guinea are working day and night to keep communities safe," said Youssouf Traoré, president of the Red Cross Society of Guinea. "Acts of violence committed against them are completely unacceptable."
Any action that hinders the work of those responding to the Ebola epidemic prevents whole communities from getting the help they need. Safe burials are a vital part of the response to drive down the number of cases. When Red Cross teams cannot access communities and ensure burials are done safely, entire communities are put at risk.
"As long as people have misconceptions about how Ebola is spread – and continue to prevent volunteers from doing their work – we will not stop the disease," said Traoré. "We may have all the medical equipment we need to care for people, but until we change perceptions of the disease, it will not go away."
Since the beginning of the outbreak July 2014, the Red Cross Society of Guinea has been actively engaged in dispelling the rumours and myths surrounding the disease. More than one million people have been reached using various communication channels. In consultation with communities, religious leaders, families and individuals, the Red Cross has helped find alternative and dignified ways for families, friends and communities to pay their respects to the dead while reducing risk of infection. By working with volunteers and using radio and television, the Red Cross has shared knowledge, tackled fear and reduced stigma.
"Community engagement remains critical if we want to get cases to zero," said Traoré. "Communities must understand the risks related to this disease and the positive contribution Red Cross volunteers can make to their safety."
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the Red Cross Society of Guinea, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are calling on humanitarian partners, governments and the media to continue spreading the messages on the disease and how to stay safe.
"Now is not the time to be complacent, nor is it the time to pull out. Now is the time to push ahead, get down to zero, and stay there," Traoré said.