When I Arrived in the Republic of Guinea in August 2012 as a military cooperator, I thought I would be working in the framework of conventional missions organized by the Ministry’s Security and Defence Cooperation Directorate (DCSD). The shock of the Ebola crisis made me change my approach.
Deconcentrated civil protection for Guinea...
The lack of fire and emergency support services for people outside Conakry soon became evident to me. For attentive, dedicated Guinean civil protection staff, who were surprised and flattered we took interested with them, I organized, at the request of the DCSD, the creation of two civil protection units of about 100 men each, for deployment in the country’s four regional capitals. Their role was to support local authority staff to prevent or respond to weather events and any situation requiring a government response to protect people and property. We had in mind a natural or technological disaster, but the future would soon contradict us.
The originality of the project lay in its recruitment: while it is run by officers from the Guinean fire brigade, its forces are made up of so-called “unregistered” military personnel who languished in the country’s garrisons. They had never been trained or incorporated into the civil service. For the Guinean authorities, the useful employment of these young people was a real boon.
EU involvement in the financing of this project to renew the Guinean civil protection service with the logistical support of Expertise France enabled the largest training action in the field of civil protection ever carried out in sub-Saharan Africa to take place in 2014.
... fighting the Ebola virus
In early 2014, the virulence of the Ebola epidemic became the major concern of the Guinean authorities. The civil protection services, which were in the midst of being restructured, were absent from the worst-affected areas. Worse still, many cooperation missions were compromised or cancelled, including the programme to renew the civil protection services that I was coordinating.
But the French authorities in Conakry and Paris were there, and committed. They decided to continue and enhance civil protection missions to address the health emergency as international assistance arrived in dribs and drabs. The Guinean authorities were grateful. I decided to create an Ebola module within the civil protection unit training programme, so as to train 200 people in the tasks of transporting possible Ebola patients, the work of hygienists, and mediation with the population, who were reluctant to acknowledge the reality of the disease.
Aware of the immediate operational deployment, our trainers from France worked in conditions that were made difficult by the constraints linked to the epidemic. The health risks run by both the trainers and the trainees required drastic health precautions.
In December 2014, following a summary exercise carried out by the civil protection units and attended by the Guinean Minister of Security and Civil Protection, the French Ambassador and a delegate from the European Union, the 200 men were made available to the Guinean authorities.
Lastly, in March 2015, the Guinean Ministry of Security and Civil Protection decided to deploy the civil protection units in support of Red Cross personnel. They played a major role as the authorities worked to eradicate the epidemic. Their exemplary rigour and availability were commended by Ebola response coordinators.
The work of organizing, convincing and implementing to enable the civil protection units to work and be operational was a great professional satisfaction, as was the sentiment of having made my own contribution to resolving the health crisis was another. Above and beyond, I am proud to have helped Guineans save other Guineans. In my view, that is the ultimate goal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development’s structural cooperation.
Guinea-Conakry: civil protection services prepare post-Ebola action, supported by French cooperation
From 6 to 13 September 2015, a team of 5 UIISC 1 (Civil Security Instruction and Intervention Unit) trainers instructed 100 civil protection unit personnel in treating and transporting people with infectious diseases, in Kafiliya, 140 km from Conakry.
This mission was organized in the framework of the PREPARE project, supported by France and the European Union, which involves establishing regional epidemic alert and response teams (ERARE) in each of Guinea’s eight administrative regions (including Conakry). The aim is to put in place rapid detection of the development of infectious diseases before they reach epidemic levels. To support this project, the Guinean Directorate-General for Civil Protection decided, with the assistance of France’s Civil Security and Crisis Management Division (DGSCGC / Ministry of the Interior) and Security and Defence Cooperation Directorate (DCSD / Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development), to put in place eight teams of 10 people, each team being equipped with a vehicle so as to be able to collect any person showing symptoms of infectious disease and take them to a health care centre, wherever they are in the country.
The project thus combines operational and structural aspects in an interministerial framework.
16 staff had already been trained in early September by Paris fire brigade (BSPP) specialists in driving the Unimog trucks that will be used for patient transport. They joined the rest of the civil protection unit staff who had just been formed in handling contagious patients by specialists from UIISC 1 (Civil Security Instruction and Intervention Unit 1).
This mission is a very clear part of a “post-Ebola” vision (although the epidemic remains present in Guinea-Conakry) from the Guinean authorities, so that the country can hold the means to respond rapidly in the event of any sort of epidemic; these means were lacking in Guinea when the Ebola epidemic broke out in 2014. It is financed by the Ebola Task Force of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development, and financially implemented by Expertise France.
UIISC 1 is particularly involved in this project, as it had already formed the 200 civil protection unit staff between October and December 2014.