FREETOWN BECOMES THE ULTIMATE BATTLE GROUND

Strategic Media & Development Communications Unit :

As the Ebola virus seeks to establish a foothold in Freetown, The Mayor of the Municipality, His Worship, Franklyn Bode Gibson has taken proactive steps to ramp up the campaign against the Ebola Virus disease and its characteristic hemorrhagic fever that kills its host in under 21 days and with such degrading combinations of vomiting and defecation of blood, loss of vital functions and a debilitating illness that culminates in a rather dehumanizing death.

BODEGIBSON

MAYOR BODE GIBSON

Mayor Gibson has indicated his preparedness to lead on the establishment of an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for the Western Area, in tandem with the EOC operating in the Districts and also working in close collaboration with the national EOC based at WHO offices in Freetown. The idea is for the Mayor to lead on a probable Freetown Plan of Action to rid the city of this deadly virus. It is generally agreed that the ramifications for the spread of the virus in Freetown will surpass the experiences of the first epicenters of Kailahun and Kenema even though at the time this scourge ravaged those areas, not much information was available on how to effectively manage and contain the disease.

Freetown’s rabid communities of slums, congestion and illegal housing at inaccessible places such as coastline and hilltop areas will make search and trace activities much more difficult to manage. Mayor Gibson is aware of the various characteristics that make Freetown unique, including some of the most difficult conditions on which the communities in this city cohabit. However, his main strength as Father of the City is a reliance on around 49 Councilors who altogether possess a robust knowledge of local communities and hot spots and can reach some of the hardest to reach groups as they have done in times of political campaigning. Their close links with these communities and their statutory duties as conveners of Ward Committees make Councilors a veritable army of frontline agitators to seek the welfare of the people in this Municipality.

The battle to rid the country of Ebola virus will follow the pattern of the civil war, which saw its final demise played out in the streets and communities in Freetown, ravaging a desolate city, entering every nook and cranny to flush out rebels and other insurgents before the final showdown by the waterside boys at a hideout location well away from the city streets. The fight to rid Sierra Leone of Ebola may follow that very same pattern, having started in earnest with the house to house campaign to disseminate information on health guidelines relating to the disease, increase and improve awareness of the disease and lay out plans for a more concerted effort to flush out those with signs and symptoms of the disease. It is clear that the final sufferers can be contained at a specific location or holding centre, around which the last reports of zero infections, suspected or probable cases would be counter checked.

In accepting the duty to convene the Western Area EOC, Mayor Bode Gibson was quick to lament the perceived sidelining of the Freetown City Council as a major oversight by Central Government in the strategic planning at Presidential Task Force and Inter-Ministerial Council meetings. He however accepts that while Ministers may have a broader remit in handling matters at a national level, his focus on Freetown puts him at a distinct advantage to lead on the Freetown initiative to rid this country of this deadly virus.

As the virus reaches the City, Mayor Bode Gibson was quick to identify the shipping lanes as potential places for those moving from affected areas to the city for better health services. Together with Port authorities, the Mayor had set up screening points at ferry and other landing points along the Freetown coastline. The experience so far is that the potential for a spread of the virus through travel and health tourism is drastically high. In Nigeria, a single patient infected and killed around nine persons. In the state of Dallas, Texas in the USA, the virus has caused up to 100 people to be put on a track and trace list after a single person flew over to the USA from Liberia. In Spain, it has now been confirmed that one of the nurses who helped look after a Missionary who contacted the Ebola virus disease in Liberia is now infected. The reason for highlighting these examples is to drive home the potential for underestimating the efficacy of the virus once it has reached Freetown and its ability to cause major damage. In fact, Freetown registered the highest single spike in reported cases over the weekend at the rate of 121 cases in a single day.

In discussions with GOAL, an International NGO based in Freetown just last week, the issue of security of burial spaces and the long term option of crematoriums have been discussed although the Mayor is not too accepting of the idea of crematoriums. However, epidemiological projections calculate that Freetown will bury a whole lot of sufferers with a rate of 100 a month being touted as probable within the next six months. Forecasts for the growth of the disease is gloomy with a total infection rate of 80% being mentioned by the CDC as a worst case scenario.

With the Mayor’s involvement in establishing an Emergency Operations Centre for the Western Area, it is expected that he would use his good offices and proven networks with NGOs, community leaders, religious leaders and ward activists to provide a robust monitoring, surveillance and trace mechanism for Freetown to arrest the situation. Mayor Bode Gibson is well advised of the ramifications of the spread of this virus in Freetown and through his responsibilities for decentralization in Health, has been regularly briefed by the DHMT teams across the City. It is expected that with a more centralized operations Unit for the Municipality, decision making on protecting the city will rightfully be made at a point closest to the people and communities affected by this scourge.

In another engagement, Mayor Gibson handed over the Allen Town Community Centre to residents in the area after a major refurbishment by the Freetown City Council from funds collected as council tax in Freetown. In delivering the Keynote address, The Deputy Minister of Local Government confirmed that this is the first time in history that a local Authority is providing such facilities from self generated funds and not donor aid. He admonished the residents to use the facility for non Ebola cases and refer all suspected Ebola cases to the nearest holding centre. The refurbishment of the Health Centre, the Mayor intoned, was in line with Governments declared aspiration to refurbish all health facilities to cater to other non Ebola health needs while cases relating to Ebola are isolated away from other mainstream health treatment facilities.

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