Mali Red Cross: Containing the Ebola outbreak while preparing for the worst

Published: 19 December 2014 11:31 CET

By Moustapha Diallo, IFRC

Doctor Alain Kapete usually wears a calm and quiet demeanour, a temperament volunteers from the Mali Red Cross, with whom he is now working, find rather appealing. But today, standing in the middle of his team, suited up in protective gear, mask, gloves and goggles, Doctor Kapete shrugs and moves about constantly. He is involved in a simulation exercise as part of a training on safe and dignified burials, and he wants to ensure the volunteers comply with procedures.

“The bodies of people who died from Ebola are very contagious. That is why we make sure our volunteers are well trained on donning and removing personal protective equipment including the suit, goggles and boots when they are called to collect and bury a person who died from Ebola,” says Dr Kapete. “We also train them in disinfecting the homes of deceased persons.”

After a first group of 35 volunteers was trained by WHO and Doctors Without Borders following the death of a two year old girl in Kayes, an additional 25 volunteers have also been trained in Bamako, the Malian capital, where five people have died from Ebola, including two health workers.

“The situation appears to be improving, as we have had only one transmission chain and 488 people who were in contact with the Ebola case were followed by the Red Cross and other health workers,” says Dr Boureima Dembele, Ebola focal point at Mali Red Cross. “Today there are only 13 people to be followed, and in three days, they will be released if they do not develop symptoms.”

However, Mali is highly vulnerable to a new spike of infection as it shares long borders of over 800 kilometres with Guinea, a country where the Ebola virus is still intense in some areas. In Kourémalé, the main point of entry between Mali and Guinea, surveillance has been strengthened with the erection of a health checkpoint. Here, no passengers pass the checkpoint without being subjected to a strict medical control, as the second case of Ebola in Mali came from Kourémalé-Guinea. Ebola transit centres have also been set up on both sides of the border.

According to official statistics, up to 800 people transit through the facility daily, but the borders are very porous and not everyone comes through here.

“The risk is still high and therefore we must remain vigilant. We are scaling up our efforts to contain this ongoing epidemic while preparing for the worst. That is why we are organizing this training,” says Dr Dembele.

Nearly 580 volunteers in Mali have been trained on social mobilization and contact tracing in the regions of Kayes, Koulikoro, Sikasso, and Bamako since the Ebola outbreak was declared in neighbouring Guinea in March 2014. Many are now actively responding to the current outbreak.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched 16 Ebola operations in response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, targeting 39 million people. For more details on the Red Cross regional Ebola response, visit