British-led scientists trial 15-minute Ebola test in Guinea
British scientists announced trials on a 15-minute Ebola test in Guinea as France's Francois Hollande arrived in Conakry on Friday, becoming the first Western leader to visit one of the countries devastated by the epidemic.
The prototype is six times faster than current tests and aims to speed up diagnosis, the London-based global research charity Wellcome Trust and Britain's Department for International Development (DFID) said in a statement.
"A reliable, 15-minute test that can confirm cases of Ebola would be a key tool for effective management of the Ebola outbreak, allowing patients to be identified, isolated and cared for as soon as possible," said Val Snewin of the Wellcome Trust.
She said the test was designed to be suitable for remote field hospitals where electricity and cold storage are often scarce.
The trials, to be led by researchers from Dakar's Pasteur Institute at an Ebola treatment centre in Conakry in the coming weeks, will come as a welcome boon in Guinea which has lost 1,200 people to Ebola.
The biggest Ebola epidemic on record has claimed around 5,700 lives in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since the beginning of the year, according to the World Health Organization.
President Hollande pledged his support for Guinea after arriving in France's west African former colony on Friday.
"We have a duty to support you," he told his hosts, adding that "we are together with you in the struggle, in this battle" and thanking Guinea for containing the epidemic.
- Solidarity -
The visit, the first by a French president since 1999, has been touted as a bid to deliver "a message of solidarity" to Guinea as it battles the worst outbreak of Ebola since the virus was discovered in 1976.
France has pledged 100 million euros ($125 million) as a contribution in the fight against the epidemic, focusing its efforts on Guinea.
The money will help finance several care centres as well as 200 beds, some of which are reserved for health workers caring for the sick.
France has also pledged to set up two training centres for health workers, one in France and one in Guinea. In addition, French biotechnology companies will set up rapid diagnostic tests in Africa.
Hollande visited healthcare workers at Conakry's Donka hospital, which hosts the city's Doctors Without Borders Ebola treatment unit, alongside his Guinean counterpart Alpha Conde.
Before entering, both men followed the protocol of washing their hands and having their temperatures taken.
The French leader is also due to sign a cooperation agreement with Guinean authorities for the creation of a Pasteur Institute in Conakry by the end of 2016, the global medical research organisation said on Thursday.
- Heightened tensions -
"For the people of Guinea, the arrival of President Hollande is a very, very important sign," Conde said.
"If the president of a country as important as France can come to Guinea, that means anyone can come to Guinea."
The visit comes amid heightened tensions in Guinea over the government's handling of the Ebola crisis and criticism over curbs to free speech.
Conde said on Wednesday the use of force was entirely justified in battling the deadly Ebola outbreak.
"There are still people who think Ebola is fiction," Conde told a news conference in a country where an eight-member Ebola education team was murdered by angry villagers in September.
"We have an agenda which is to finish with Ebola as soon as possible and in Guinea this is possible," he added.
"If people don't want to be treated we will use force because we won't allow the illness to spread despite all our efforts."
Press advocacy organisation Reporters Without Borders has voiced concern about the attacks on press freedom under the pretext of the fight against Ebola.
Meanwhile the Guinean opposition coalition this week denounced the lack of consultation by the government over its strategy for fighting Ebola.
Hollande is due to travel to the Senegalese capital Dakar later Friday to take part in a summit of French-speaking leaders that is likely to be dominated by the Ebola crisis as well as the recent unrest in Burkina Faso.
"Tomorrow at the Francophonie Summit, I will launch a new appeal for international mobilisation. But France must lead by example," he told a cheering crowd in Conakry.
© 2014 AFP