One of the most serious epidemics of all time...

The Ebola virus was first identified in 1976, where an outbreak was observed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) near the Ebola River. At the time, an international medical team was able to identify the as yet unknown virus and stop its spread. The Ebola virus causes an acute, very serious and often fatal illness. The average fatality rate – the percentage of deaths among those who fall ill – can be upwards of 50%.

This first outbreak, which occurred in rural, sparsely populated areas, killed 318 people in Zaire and 284 in Sudan. Between 1976 and 2013, Ebola never completely disappeared. The virus is contagious and there was no known treatment. Epidemic periods regularly hit the populations of Central Africa.

In December 2013, the virus reappeared in south-east Guinea. Between 2013 and 2015, more than 28,000 people contracted the virus and more than 11,000 died, mainly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone as well as in Nigeria, Senegal and Mali. This was the first time that Ebola infections had occurred in West Africa.

The challenge of big epidemics

Fighting the virus

Under the auspices of local authorities and the World Health Organization, international aid organizations began arriving to help. France organized an aid programme for Guinea, with which it maintains historic ties, while the United States focused on Liberia and the United Kingdom on Sierra Leone. France’s support accounted for a significant share of all international aid Guinea received.

On 20 October 2014, the Prime Minister created an interministerial Ebola Task Force to coordinate and oversee France’s efforts. It relied on the resources of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Health, the Interior, Defence, and Higher Education and Research. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs coordinated the international action and the CDCS provided the necessary logistical support for the Task Force.

To curb the virus’ spread, treatment centres had to be set up near infected patients and caretakers trained on the specific risks and prevention behaviours to adopt. To encourage medical teams to join in fighting the epidemic, they were guaranteed medical care if they contracted the disease. Finally, the programme included prevention activities to inform local populations about how the virus is transmitted and preventive actions to take, which are essential to prevent the virus from spreading.