Bamako, Oct 30 (IANS/EFE) The death of a two-year-old child from Ebola last Friday has caused panic among the population of Mali and has taken its toll on traditional customs.
"For a country with a strong oral tradition and family celebrations, a change of behaviour in times of epidemics is a must," Malian doctor Abdoulaye Diallo told Spanish news agency Efe.
Since the death of the child, many Malians are careful not to wash their hands in the same bowl, avoid eating from the same dish, keep children from playing together in the street and have changed burial rituals.
Concern about the virus, fuelled by social networks and the lack of health infrastructure, has even led some Malians not to shake hands with each other and greet people only by waving.
Besides the scarcity of infrastructure, medical teams have no experience to deal with such cases, said sources at the Kayes Hospital in western Mali, where the dead child was treated.
"Doctors and their assistants were not prepared to receive a case of Ebola," they said.
A witness who requested anonymity said poor communication about what was happening sparked hysteria in the medical centre and several patients tried to flee.
The toddler contracted the disease in Guinea Conakry and was sent to live in Mali with her maternal grandmother after the death of her father and her paternal grandmother in unclear circumstances, as they did not undergo an autopsy.
After her death, people have been especially careful in areas the girl crossed in her journey from Guinea Conakry to Kayes, 310 miles west of Bamako, which are considered more prone to the infection.
"Gold diggers no longer get close to the border between Mali and Guinea, and when a patient comes from this area physicians are suspicious," said Gabriel Toure, a janitor at a hospital in Bamako.
Many criticise the lack of information about the virus and the fact that so little is known about how it is transmitted, especially in a country where several dialects are spoken.
With the help of tribal leaders, the ministry of health has taken measures to prevent the spread of the virus and has launched an information campaign.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said Wednesday that 82 people were under observation in Mali after being in contact with the dead child, but so far they have not shown symptoms of the disease.
A group of WHO experts has moved to Mali to help detect and control possible patients of Ebola, a virus that has caused nearly 5,000 deaths and infected more than 10,000 in western Africa since last March.