Building an Ebola Treatment Centre in Guinea

After 25 days of uninterrupted work, WFP has finished constructing an Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC) for ALIMA, an NGO partner in Guinea. It is now the fourth operational ETC in the country. Venturing into unknown territory, WFP has adopted an integrated approach, cooperating along the way with global medical aid agency Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), ALIMA and the government of Guinea to lead this project.

It's quite dark here when a myriad of small busy silhouettes appear under large external spotlights. A digger excavating trenches suddenly comes into view. Concrete mixers are pouring fresh cement into wheelbarrows that come and go to finalise the alleys. On a roof, a man is nailing the last few rows of hardwood, while another tirelessly saws the planks in a mechanical gesture. It feels like a well-oiled machine, yet this is a first for all partners involved in the construction site.

In the heart of Forest Guinea, Nfali Soumaoro's teams work day and night in a race against the clock to finalise the Nzérékoré Ebola Treatment Centre before handing it over to ALIMA, a small French NGO founded five years ago by a bunch of former MSF staff. 

In one of the worst-hit areas of the country, the challenge is to finish the construction of this centre in less than 30 days in an unprecedented crisis where time is constantly catching up with all actors on the ground.

Adaptation here seems to be the key word. "What you are expecting on Monday might happen on Sunday or Tuesday -- you always have to be flexible," says Thierry Allafort-Duverger, ALIMA’s president. 

WFP, tasked by the Government of Guinea to build four Ebola treatment centres in the country in less than a month, has worked hand in hand with the government’s Ebola coordination cell and the medical humanitarian community to set this up.

Here in Guinea it is a network of individuals, rather than a group of institutions, who have contributed their know-how to this project. 

Communication goes by first names rather than titles and is based on trust rather than decorum.

Almost half of the workers on the construction site come from three of the surrounding villages. In Louhoulé, less than a mile down the road, Seraphin, the leader of the community, was glad to learn that his village, where unemployment rates are high, would be able to contribute.

The site is close to sacred ground where the village's founder is buried. To avoid offending their ancestor, the village elders made an animal sacrifice to appease the spirits.

In Nzérékoré's main hotel, Alima has moved into what used to be a conference room and the alleys are full of logisticians, hygienists and doctors finalising briefings and practical exercises. 

It's the end of one leg and the beginning of another, as the first patients were admitted on 2 December 2014.