Guinea: Traditional healers support Ebola response at the risk of personal hardship

Published: 8 May 2015 11:42 CET

By Moustapha Diallo, IFRC

In remote villages in the forest area of Guinea, people have strong beliefs in traditional practices. They often seek the services of traditional healers before going to health facilities, for ailments ranging from malaria to sexually transmitted diseases, broken bones and sterility.

When Ebola first broke out in the town of Macenta, the traditional healers did not know what the disease was.

“Some of us caught the virus and died because we did not know what we were dealing with. Ebola has symptoms similar to less serious diseases,” explains Karamoko Ibrahima Fofana, President of the Association of Traditional Healers in Macenta, which has more than 2,000 members.

Macenta is among the areas hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak, with 745 cases at the end of 2014, from a population of approximately 300,000. In 2015, however, it has experienced a massive reduction in cases.

“Together with the Ministry of Health and other partners, we have put in place several measures to contain the disease. In this framework, each organization, including the Red Cross, plays an important role. Outreach activities have been intensified as well as contact tracing and case management,” explains Dr Mamadi Keita, from the health unit at the Red Cross Society of Guinea. “At the same time, communities began accepting Red Cross volunteers and are allowing them to bury any person who dies in the community with dignity and safety.”

Dr Keita says community leaders, including religious leaders and elders, were mobilized to reach out to communities. Traditional healers were also trained and mobilized and for Dr Keita, “they are part of the solution, as many people turn to them for treatment before considering health facilities.”

Today most traditional healers in Macenta are aware of the risk of treating Ebola patients and have agreed to postpone their activity to protect themselves and members of their communities, even at the risk of personal hardship.

“Now, I have been reduced to begging for food to take care of my family as I have stopped my job,” explains Koly Béavogui, 80, a traditional healer in Macenta. “But I feel happy to share knowledge I have received about Ebola and refer every sick person who comes to see me to the hospital or the Ebola treatment centre.”

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has launched 16 emergency operations in response to the Ebola outbreak. Totalling more than 126 million Swiss francs, the operations are aimed at reaching 39 million people. In Guinea, an emergency appeal of 28.5 million Swiss francs is currently 92 per cent funded. For more information on Red Cross Ebola operations, visit