Since the whole fight against the dreadful Ebola scourge rests on our attitudes towards the virus, the Attitudinal and Behavioural Change (ABC) Secretariat has commenced a nationwide Ebola Education and Preventive Measures Enforcement Campaign which started in Port Loko on Monday, 17th November, 2014 as one of the districts that has recorded the highest number of confirmed cases in the country with 720 as at 17th November.
The Minister of Information and Communications, Hon. Alpha Kanu left together with the ABC Executives
The campaign is to stress the need for Sierra Leoneans to be very positive in their response towards the disease. During the campaign, the Secretariat will organise customised meetings with Ebola response coordination and technical committees and various pillars, dialogue with front line staff, traditional and opinion leaders, conduct field trips and public educational programmes in community radios and public space.
The executive director of the attitudinal and behavioural change secretariat Dr. Ivan Agibola Thomas discussed that the Secretariat joined the fight against the virus because of the demonstration and manifestation of negative attitudes and behaviour responsible for the rapid spread of the virus countrywide. He stressed that some community leaders and people are refusing to adhere to the professional medical preventive advice that will curtail the spread of the disease. Dr. Agibola Thomas maintains that some people are reluctant to give up customs and traditional practices such as burial rites and family patient care that have enormously contributed to the endemic nature of the disease in Sierra Leone.
The ABC Director said that this Ebola education and preventive measures enforcement campaign of the Secretariat takes place in all the twelve provincial districts of the country having covered the Western Urban and Rural. The northern district of Port Loko is the first stop because it has become the epicentre of the disease. In Port Loko, the Secretariat met with the Minister of Information and Communications, Honourable Alpha Kanu who was commended by stakeholders in the district for his relentless effort and good working relationship with them in ensuring that the disease is contain in the district and the country as a whole. Speaking to the Secretariat, the Minister noted that the whole fight against Ebola rests on the attitudes and behaviour of the people of Sierra Leone towards the epidemic, ‘‘no matter what we do or how many experts that come from the international community to help us if we do not change our attitudes we will not succeed in containing the disease.’’
Hon. Kanu also mentioned that in 2007 President Koroma established Secretariat as if he knew that there was going to be an Ebola outbreak that will require the continuous role of the ABC Secretariat, and described workers of the Secretariat as the ‘front soldiers’ in the whole fight because there is no way we could forge ahead with the Ebola fight without positive attitude. He also noted the role of the traditional and community leaders in making the virus a history in Sierra Leone, and added that the disease is something that is preventable and that can be contained provided people are ready to break the chain of transmission. He commended the People of Kailahun and Kenema for their efforts in trying to curtail the spread of the virus recently causing them to record zero cases every other day for the past weeks.
Regarding the step taken by religious leaders in Pujehun to stop congregating people in mosques and churches for the meantime until we are able to control the disease, he said the government would not stop people from going to churches and mosques but stressed that God is omnipresent and omnipotent and therefore could be sought everywhere. He furthered that, if Sierra Leoneans can be able to follow the precautionary measures for just twenty one days the country will be pronounced Ebola free. The Secretariat also met with the Paramount Chief of Maforki Chiefdom P.C. Alikali Mellah II who noted that chieftaincy is noble institution that has existed for many years and one that has strong authority, but mentioned that at the beginning of the fight against Ebola, chiefs were not involved and even now when they have been involved, he said they have not been provided with logistics.
P.C. Alikali Mellah promised to ensure that all by-laws regarding fighting the Ebola scourge are adhere to in his chiefdom, and that he has informed his Section Chiefs that it is their responsibility to maintain the laws. ‘‘I have told them that if anyone of them goes contrary to the by-laws or encourages someone to go against the those law I will allow the law to take its full course.’’ The Paramount Chief also disclosed that he has made an ordered that no boat should ply the Port Loko creek because that is the escape route for sick persons in and out of the chiefdom. He cited an example of one Imam who was sick of Ebola and escaped from Port Loko Town through a boat to his village who later died causing all most the whole village to be infected with Ebola. He also mentioned that he other authorities are planning to implement a curfew and a house-to-house search for sick persons, and that he has talked to all the religious leaders of his chiefdom to make sure that they include Ebola education and sensitization in all of their sermons.
P.C. Alikali Mellah II of Maforki Chiefdom
The District Medical Officer (DMO) for Port Loko District, Dr. Adikalie Kamara briefed the Secretariat about the state of Ebola in the district and the mechanisms that they have put in place to ensure that the number of Ebola cases is drastically reduced in the district and to eventually contains the spread of the disease. The DMO also told the Secretariat that the disease suddenly increased in the district when the people of Komrabai Village prevented the district burial team from collecting one of the early corpses which they later washed and buried for themselves and subsequently all of those that got contact with that corpse manifested the signs and symptoms of Ebola which caused the increase spread of the disease in the district. Another issue that he highlighted that is responsible for the increasing number of cases in the district is that, the district was without holding centres, but now has nine holding centers that also serve as treatment centers; two in Port Loko Town and the remaining in the other chiefdoms.
‘‘Three days after we opened the Maforki Treatment Centre, we were able to remove ninety one cases from their homes to the centre’’ he explained, noting that the new centers have helped in isolating suspected cases from their families which will prevent them from contracting the disease. He presented the district Ebola figures to the ABC team which was not encouraging but claimed that it was due to late lab results, he also said that the district urgently needs a laboratory so that suspected cases will be tested in the district and thus will fast track result, but noted that as of now they are sending samples to Kerry Town and Lakka.
The Port Loko District Medical Officer Dr. Adikalie Kamara Showing the Rate of Ebola cases in the District to the ABC Executive Director.
As part of the constraints that the district is facing to contain the virus, Dr Kamara also disclosed that his office is facing a lot of problems with the food supply for quarantined houses, claiming that some people are very dishonest. He said sometimes some do argue that since they were put on quarantined, food was not supplied to them but after a thorough check they will notice that food was supplied to them.
The DMO disclosed that the running cost for the front line workers was very high for the district medical office, but noted that DFID through PLAN has been helping his office to provide food and risk allowance for medical staff at the holding and treatment centers. The Secretariat also met with the Assistant Inspector General of Police for Port Loko and Kambia Divisions, AIG Fodie Umaru Daboh.
The AIG disclosed that crime rate is actually going down in the district because by this time last year he was having constant confrontations with discontent youths especially from the mining companies. AIG Daboh explained the role that the police are playing in the fight against Ebola in his areas of command, ‘‘we are ensuring that people are in strict compliance with the provisions of the State of Emergency’’ he stated. He disclosed that there are several checkpoints to check the movement of people, but people are still escaping through remote roads to go out of the district, he also said that they are providing security to quarantined homes and before the coming of the military they were supporting the burial team with security.
He said traditional authorities are very essential in the whole fight because they know their communities and their people have great respect for them but stated that he is facing challenges with some of the traditional authorities especially with the Paramount Chief of Lokomasama Chiefdom, Chief Bai Maro Lamin Ngbathor, citing that the Chief is encouraging some issues that are not good for the fight against Ebola such as the holding of secret market days.
The Assistant Inspector General of Police categorically told the Secretariat that he is not happy with the attitudes and behaviours of the Paramount Chief, and that he has warned him that he would officially report him to the Minister of Internal Affairs and subsequently order for his arrest. He further mentioned that sixteen people who were involved in the ambulance fracas at Lokomasama are in remand. For the quarantined homes, he said that people are not getting their food on time, and that has been causing a lot of headaches for security personnel. He said that some of the nurses at the holding centers are not spending the night at the centers, but has alerted his men with specific instruction to take records of the movements of all nurses in and out of the centers and report to him so that he would take it up to the appropriate authorities. Staff of the Secretariat also visited the Maforki Holding and Treatment Center and met with members of the burial team, contact tracers, the social mobilization group and leaders of youth groups. The National Coordinator and Second-in-Command of the ABC Secretariat, Madam Nanette Thomas told the youth leaders to continue to educate their peers about Ebola and to also take ownership of the country because they do not have another Sierra Leone.