Earlier today I plaintively asked for a link to the Guinean Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene, and a kind reader sent it to me with a warning: "It's not very current."
She wasn't kidding, and now I feel really plaintive.
Even Haiti, just months after the earthquake and in the first awful days of the cholera outbreak, was able to post statistics on the progress of the disease. Guinea's health website appears not to have been updated in years. The last Epidemiological Bulletin was posted in February 2010. The most recent annual health report is for 2011, and was published as a draft in July 2012.
You don't need to be able to read French to see that this is a health minister with no way to communicate online, and perhaps no desire to. Maybe that's not so important in a poor country where most people don't have computers let alone a broadband connection.
But go to the hashtag #Guinée and you'll see a lot of tweets from people who are clearly Guineans and who know their way around the internet.
And if you're reading this post, you're part of a worldwide community that really cares about Ebola in Guinea (and probably knows more about it than many Guineans do).
Like many poor countries, Guinea depends on help from NGOs and various governmental and international agencies to keep its health system going. According to Quandl, Guinea in 2010 spent a whopping US$23 per capita on health—an 8% drop from 2009.
God knows the neighbours aren't much better off: Liberia spent $29, Ghana spent $67, Guinea-Bissau spent $47, and Cote d'Ivoire spent $60.
I don't know how many millions have been poured into these countries to maintain the rudiments of public health. But surely it should be a condition of such support that any government getting the money should use some small fraction of it to set up and run governmental websites that will provide both the locals and the rest of the world with accurate information.
Of course many governments don't want anything resembling accurate information to reach their people or their donor nations' taxpayers. In the case of affluent countries like Saudi Arabia, that's their prerogative. But it shouldn't be an option for any country receiving serious aid from outside.
For countries like Guinea, honesty in public health isn't just the best policy; it should be the only policy.