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Interview with Dr. Hans Meisemann: East Africa and the Ebola virus

Sundern, September 2014: With regard to the latest reports on the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, especially the tourism in other regions of the continent are suffering from the news coverage. As a consequence booking numbers collapse, reservations are cancelled and people are calling their travel agents with concerns. Even countries like Kenya or Tanzania come to the fore, even though they are far away from the regions affected. The experienced physician Dr. Hans Meisemann, who has been committed to Kenya for years now and has been responsible for the building of several hospitals in the region around Kilifi, answers the questions of travel agency Severin Travel Africa. Please have look at the following interesting interview:

Dr. Meisemann, you have just returned from Severin Sea Lodge in Kenya. Why did you travel there and how often do you visit the country?

It is correct that I returned from Kenya and thus also Severin Sea Lodge a week ago. It was a necessary visit of our aid projects at the Coast Province, north of Mombasa. Besides other problems it was especially about a maritime container with reliefs that arrived at the harbor of Mombasa shorty before I landed in Kenya.

Since 1990 I've been visiting the country for at least twice a year, but less as a tourist than as the manager of the aid organization. I stopped counting my visits, but I've been there at least 60 times now.

What is your opinion on the current situation of the Ebola epidemic?

Regarding the suffering countries in West Africa it's just a catastrophe, the more so as the aid of European countries and the US are quite unassertive.

Can you explain which regions are especially suffering and what's the reason for the dramatic broadening?

The affected regions are located in the West African states Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. The broadening in Nigeria seems to be really low at this time.

As usual it's the poorer population stratum that is affected the most. The living and hygienic conditions are really bad for most of the people. They are mostly living in only one room and there's a lack of water and cleaning supplies. There is no canalization. This alone adds to the rapid broadening of the epidemic. Additionally the ancient rites especially with regard to the dead and their funerals can hardly be prohibited, even though they are really affecting the broadening of the infection negatively. Just imagine your own child dies and you are not allowed to hold it in your arms, not even touch it. Which mother could bear up against this? You wash the dead, this is part of the tribal culture, and kiss them goodbye to show your love and grief. And then there are foreign people in strange clothes and want to prohibit this. They take the dead body of my child or my relative and bury them formless, without the ritual act.

Up to now there is no hint that the epidemic is spread through the air as we know it from our flu. It still needs the physical contact to the sick person or his/her body fluids and excretions.

What about the risk that the epidemic may be spread to other parts of the continent?

The risk for other regions in Africa, e.g. Kenya, isn't higher than it is for us. You have to keep in mind that the affected countries are as far away from Germany as they are from countries like Kenya.

What consequences for the continent can be expected due to the Ebola epidemic?

The economy will be disrupted. The poor people of the affected countries will become even poorer if they haven't died. The unemployment will also grow even more.

How's the topic Ebola treated in Kenya?

Is the media coverage as strong as in Germany?As far as I can estimate it, the topic isn't as predominant as it is in Germany. But this is also owed to the system as they otherwise need to have answers to all the questions that might arise.

How's Kenya prepared in case of the epidemic? Are there special measures that could be realized immediately?

Leading officials and doctors of the medical service have assured that they are prepared for any case. The government would start distributing germicide and soaps and prohibit the traditional funeral rituals.

Has Kenya already started measures to guard against the virus pro-actively?

The national airline Kenya Airways which was the only airline to fly to the affected countries has cancelled its flights there in mid-August. Besides this there is a special service of the Ministry of Health, and on international airports in Kenya, passengers travelling within Africa are examined with regard to Ebola symptoms. Additionally there is denied entry from the affected countries, and journeys to these regions are also prohibited.

Have you as a physician in Kenya in East Africa already been in contact with the virus? Or do you know of a breakout or sickness in Kenya?

In contrast to former diseases with a different virus in the Central African Republic and Uganda, I don't know of any case of an Ebola infection in Kenya. This thankfully also means that I've never been in contact with the deadly virus.

Which influence on the tourism in Kenya has the Ebola virus?

Unfortunately, the Ebola virus has a devastating effect on tourism. The anxiety psychoses that have been provoked by the media coverage nearly totally disrupt the tourism in West Africa. Also Kenya and Tanzania are now suffering from the consequences of the virus to tourism. The guests are scared even though the affected regions are so far away from East Africa and hygiene is so greatly looked after in hotels, especially and also at Severin Sea Lodge.

Personal details:

In 1990, Dr. Hans Meisemann visited Kenya for the first time as a tourist. Appalled by the existing medical care at that time, he and a couple of friends decided to do all the necessary to enable a punctual primary health care. His first project concentrated on the St. Lukes Bush Hospital in Kaloleni which during Dr. Meisemann's first visit even lacked suturation material for operation wounds.In the following years he started projects like the installation of a children station at the district hospital of Kilifi and the building of a medical center in Majengo. Together with further friends and supporters, huge sums of donations and reliefs could be transported to Kenya. For more than 13 years now, he has also cared for the academic and professional chances of the poorer population in the region in order to contribute to the improvement of the overall situation of the country. In 2004, the physician received the Cross of Merit of the Order of Germany for his dedication.

The interview was done by the team of tour operator Severin Travel Africa.


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