US Embassy Conakry Issues Security Message on Ebola Outbreak in Guinea

— Domani Spero

On March 24, the US Embassy in Conakry, Guinea issued the following message to U.S. citizens in the country:

The Government of Guinea has confirmed the presence of the Ebola virus in the Nzérékoré  (Guinee Forestiere) region, mostly in the administrative district of Gueckedou and in the town of Macenta.  Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, a high fever and heavy bleeding.  To date over 80 cases have been recorded with 59 recorded fatalities.
The U.S. mission in Conakry strongly recommends that U.S. citizens avoid contact with individuals exhibiting the symptoms described above until further information becomes available.

Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever (HF) is a deadly disease but is preventable.  It can be spread through DIRECT, unprotected contact with the blood or secretions of an infected person; or through exposure to objects (such as needles) that have been contaminated with infected secretions.  The viruses that cause Ebola HF are often spread through families and friends because they come in close contact with infectious secretions when caring for ill persons.  Ebola HF has a high mortality rate and early evidence suggests that the Guinea strain of Ebola is related to the Zaire Ebola strain that carries a mortality rate of 90%. Some who become sick with Ebola HF are able to recover, while others do not.  The reasons behind this are not yet fully understood. However, it is known that patients who die usually have not developed a significant immune response to the virus at the time of death.
During outbreaks of Ebola HF, the disease can spread quickly within health care settings (such as a clinic or hospital).  Exposure to Ebola viruses can occur in health care settings where hospital staff are not wearing appropriate protective equipment, such as masks, gowns, and gloves.

Symptoms may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure to Ebola virus though 8-10 days is most common.  A person suffering from Ebola presents with a sudden onset of high fever with any of the following: headache, vomits blood, has joint or muscle pains, bleeds through the body openings (eyes, nose, gums, ears, anus) and has reduced urine.

Since the virus spreads through direct contact with blood and other body secretions of an infected person those at highest risk include health care workers and the family and friends of an infected individual.

For more information on Ebola hemorrhagic fever, please visit the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola

CDC map

CDC map

On 25 March 2014, the World Health Organization provided a status update of the outbreak:

The Ministry of Health (MoH) of Guinea has notified WHO of a rapidly evolving outbreak of Ebola haemorrhagic fever in forested areas south eastern Guinea. The cases have been reported in Guekedou, Macenta, and Kissidougou districts. As of 25 March 2014, a total of 86 suspected cases including 60 deaths (case fatality ratio: 69.7%) had been reported. Four health care workers are among the victims. Reports of suspected cases in border areas of Liberia and Sierra Leone are being investigated.

Thirteen of the cases have tested positive for Ebola virus by PCR (six at the Centre International de Recherche en Infectiologie (CIRI) in Lyon, France, and seven at the Institut Pasteur Dakar, Senegal), confirming the first Ebola haemorrhagic fever outbreak in Guinea. Results from sequencing done by CIRI Lyon showed strongest homology of 98% with Zaire Ebolavirus last reported in 2009 in Kasai-Occidental Province of DR Congo. This Ebolavirus species has been associated with high mortality rates during previous outbreaks.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has worked in Guinea since 2001. Its March 25 update indicates that the group is reinforcing its teams in Guéckédou and Macenta, two towns in the south of the country where the virus has spread. Thirty staff members are reportedly on the ground and more doctors, nurses, and sanitation specialists will be joining them in the coming days. According to DWB/MSF, thirteen samples to-date have tested positive for the Ebola virus, an extremely deadly viral hemorrhagic fever. Other samples are currently being analyzed. Suspected cases have been identified in neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone, but none of these have yet been confirmed by laboratory tests.

The CDC has updated its outbreak page with information from WHO and says that it is in regular communication with its international partners WHO and MSF regarding the outbreak, to identify areas where CDC subject matter experts can contribute to the response.

As of March 25, 2014, WHO has not recommended any travel or trade restrictions to Guinea in connection with this outbreak.

U.S. Embassy Conakry is an extreme hardship post receiving 25% COLA and 30% post hardship differential. Post is headed by Ambassador Alexander Laskaris who was sworn in as the 20th U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Guinea on September 10, 2012.

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US Embassy Baghdad: SFRC Report Says Mission Cost May Be Its Death Knell

Below is an excerpt from the SFRC’s Minority Staff Trip report on Iraq that went online on April 2012 for the 112th Congress (see Iraq Report: Political Fragmentation and Corruption Stymie Economic Growth and Political Progress).

The military’s withdrawal uncorked a new wave of political wrangling and violence, and it has also left the U.S. Department of State in charge of a ground structure that more resembles a military metroplex than an embassy campus. Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, himself once an Army officer, understands that the operation is unsustainable and is looking for ways to shrink the footprint and the budget, which will have an annual cost of about $6.5 billion.
[…]
The State Department is running the Embassy in Baghdad, consulates in Basra and Erbil, the equivalent of a small combat hospital, several health clinics, an airline, airfields and all of the logistical elements involved. There are some dozen sites around the country. The price tag for operating all of this (including development and assistance programs) will be around $6.5 billion for 2012, well above that cost of any other U.S. diplomatic mission—but far lower than the more than $40 billion in U.S. spending budgeted for fiscal 2011 in Iraq.

The civilian mission numbers about 1,800 USG employees, backed by about 14,000 contractors of various stripes (care, feeding, maintenance, security, NGOs, and USAID implementing partners). The bulk of the $6.5 billion is tied up in operations and security. Overhead accounts for upward of 80 percent of costs according to the Special Inspector for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR). Such costs are unsustainable. The high cost comes under greater scrutiny when effects are measured. Because of pushback from the GOI, and the challenging security conditions, many planned programs are not being executed. Embassy staff are frustrated by their inability to have an impact.

Ambassador Jeffrey may have been only slightly exaggerating when he told staff that trucking food in from Kuwait to provide meals for personnel costs 50 times what it would if the Embassy were making purchases on the local economy. In Baghdad, core Embassy staff are housed in fully furnished apartments—down to ironing boards, vacuums, pots, pans, plates and glassware—yet the Embassy has maintained the Army way of feeding the troops: providing, at no cost to all assigned personnel, three meals a day cafeteria style, with four or five different lines of cuisine choices. Ambassador Jeffrey inherited a huge military operation. He expressed that he had little choice but to continue operating in the same fashion, although he was fully aware of the need to shed overhead costs or programs, and he would rather shed costs.

Staff was pleased to see that Consulate General Erbil is leading in this respect already. Although it, too, provides meals free-of charge for its staff, but via meal vouchers which are redeemed at a local establishment that is within the security perimeter. There is also a minimart that sells basic groceries. This allows many to take meals (particularly breakfast) in their own apartments. And because the security environment is more benign, staff can even stop for lunch while out in town for a meeting. CG Erbil has also begun hiring guards from the local population, something State does at posts around the world.

Among its recommendations, shrinking further the USG footprint in the country:

Currently numbering 10 or 11 sites, the United States Government should reduce or consolidate the number of sites from which it is operating in Iraq. Each site requires a cadre of static guards and support personnel that add exponentially to the cost of the Iraq operation.  In and around Baghdad, no meaningful downsizing can occur if the Embassy has to continue to control the sprawling expanse of real estate for which it is currently responsible, including six separate sites in Baghdad alone. The Department must look for ways to shrink its footprint. One option would be to close FOB Union III, which exclusively houses the OSC–I mission. Those offices should transition to the buildings that were originally constructed for that purpose on the Embassy campus.

Read in full here (pdf download).

Domani Spero

 

 

Officially In: Alexander M. Laskaris – from Erbil, Iraq to the Republic of Guinea

On May 24, President Obama announced his intent to nominate  Alexander M. Laskaris as the next Ambassador to the Republic of Guinea. The WH released the following brief bio:

Alexander M. Laskaris, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, is Consul General at the U.S. Consulate in Erbil, Iraq, a position he has held since June 2010. Previously, he was the Team Leader for the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mosul, Iraq from 2008 to 2009.  Prior to serving in Iraq, he was the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo (2006-2009) and Burundi (2003-2005).  Previously, Mr. Laskaris was a member of the U.S. Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff (2001-2003) and Advisor to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations (1999-2001).  Other overseas assignments have included Political Officer in Luanda, Angola; Political and Economic Officer in Gaborone, Botswana; and Vice Consul in Monrovia, Liberia.  From 1996 to 1997, he served as Desk Officer for Rwanda and Burundi at the Department of State.

He received a B.S. from Georgetown University and an M.A. from the U.S. Army War College.

In addition to Kurdish, Mr. Laskaris speaks Albanian, Greek, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.  He was born in Monterey, California and lives in Takoma Park, Maryland.  If confirmed, Mr. Laskaris would succeed career diplomat Patricia Newton Moller who was appointed chief of mission to Conakry in 2009.

We have often been struck by the prior assignments of some our diplomats nominated for ambassadorial posts. Some have been able to skirt the war zone posts, or able to get stuck in Foggy Bottom longer than most or move through inter-agency assignments within the beltway.  Mr. Laskaris on the other hand is on his second tour in Iraq, his third year in that war torn country. His list of previous assignments is a run down of places high on hardship and low on cushy-factor.  Conakry will not be altogether different from his prior assignments; post is a 55% differential post (25% COLA + 30% hardship).

Domani Spero

Related item:
President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts | May 24, 2012