Doors opened at an Ebola treatment center in Guinea's Forest Region on Friday, the first of three clinics planned by the French government as part of its efforts to assist in fighting the spread of the virus that has killed more than 5,000 people in West Africa since the outbreak began.
The new facility is located in the town of Macenta, which lies in the mountainous region where the virus first made the jump from a bat to a 2-year-old boy in December 2013, eventually crossing the border into Liberia and Sierra Leone. Built by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), and financed by France to the tune of 17 million Euros ($21 million), the hospital will not be run by the French military, as was initially planned, but instead by the French Red Cross. The facility is staffed with 25 French-speaking healthcare workers and has the capacity for approximately 70 patients.
French President François Hollande first unveiled the plans to open the treatment center in September, when the international community's concern over the spread of the hemorrhagic fever was peaking. During a press conference discussing the decision to offer assistance, Hollande explained that France would "be taking action, and providing Guinea with financial aid."
France's development minister Annick Girardin was the first European minister to head to the devastated region with a trip to Guinea in August and she returned to the country last week for a three-day trip, including a stop in Macenta on Friday for the center's official opening.
"Macenta is located in Guinea's Forest Region; the epicenter of the Ebola epidemic. The goal is to mobilize at the heart of the outbreak, and to set up a center in the most appropriate location, thus avoiding having to transport patients," Girardin told VICE News.
According to Girardin, the project included construction projects like extending an airport runway. She said the hospital had been built by local contractors, and that residents of Macenta had been invited to visit the site, as part of awareness-raising efforts.
Girardin said France will seek to coordinate Ebola response efforts in Guinea by "liaising between the [Guinean] government and the international partners on the ground." Practically speaking, the French government will be working to scale up Guinea's logistical and operational capacity to allow the country to implement its own virus response plan.
"We chose MSF to envision and build this center because they are the organization that currently has the the most practical experience in the fight against Ebola," the minister said. "The Red Cross is in charge of running the center for one year. We had initially considered having the facility managed by the military, but the French army will instead run another one of the three centers that are due to open in Guinea."
The new treatment center is equipped with a children's wing, including a nursery for sick children and an area for children whose parents are being treated. Families will be allowed to visit their loved ones in the hospital under strict monitoring. There is also a community center that offers counseling services for patients' relatives, and a postmortem care facility to ensure safe and dignified burials for the families of victims.
For Girardin, these additional services are key. By seeking to "humanize" the treatment centers, she argued, the government will help "fight against the fear and misinformation" that are contributing to the spread of the virus.
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