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Hollande visits Ebola-hit Guinea

French president Francois Hollande brought a message of hope to Guinea, where thousands of people lined the roads to see the first Western leader to visit a country hard hit by Ebola.

Guinean president Alpha Conde greeted his French counterpart at the airport and said if Mr Hollande could visit the country, then anybody could.

"There is hope," said Mr Hollande, "The hope of those who have been cured. The hope that we can control this epidemic ... The very fact that hope exists."

But the French leader also warned that isolation "in a health crisis can become an economic crisis which can set off a political crisis".

Guinea is scheduled to have presidential elections next year, and Mr Conde is the first democratically elected president since its independence from France in 1958.

During a visit of about eight hours Mr Hollande toured an Ebola treatment centre run by Doctors Without Borders, the principal care provider in the epidemic, and congratulated French and Guinean health workers for their bravery.

Mr Hollande heard updates from aid groups and Guinean and French officials. The room burst out in applause when an Ebola survivor was introduced.

"Ebola is something else. When you do not have Ebola you have a life, you have dreams. When you have Ebola, you are treated like a dead person, even after you are cured," survivor Fanta Camara said.

Ebola survivors have been driven from their villages and fired from their jobs as they carry a huge social stigma.

Mr Camara said Ebola had "totally isolated" Guinea but that Mr Hollande "is showing us that we are not alone".

Mr Hollande was flying overnight to a summit of Francophone countries in Dakar, Senegal, where he said he would again appeal for international mobilisation to fight the epidemic.

Ebola has ravaged three West African countries - Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone - and sickened nearly 16,000 people, making it by far the largest Ebola outbreak in history and the first to infect capital cities.

It has hit populations faster than doctors can keep up, while also hitting remote areas difficult to reach with help.

The UN's World Health Organisation last week declared the outbreak in Guinea had "stabilised". It has reported 1,260 deaths from 2,134 cases.

But Oxfam-France said there is little or no reliable information about the epidemic in rural areas.

Nearly a year since the first patient died in Guinea, at least 25 villages in the country's forested and mountainous south-east still refuse to allow entry by health workers trying to trace potential cases, according to human rights groups at a seminar this week.

The hardest-pressed area in Guinea currently is the south-east town of Macenta, where France helped open a new treatment centre this month.

French Red Cross official Thomas Mauget said the first cured patient left on Thursday, but that the child's mother is still being treated.

He said the centre has expanded from 15 to 36 beds in 10 days. Doctors Without Borders said it treated 363 patients in six weeks before it handed the centre to the Red Cross on November 18.

President Conde said France has promised to open three more centres.

Neighbouring Mali announced one Ebola patient has been cured. The nation has recorded a handful of cases after sick people crossed from Guinea.


From Belfast Telegraph