Titus Boye-Thompson, Strategic Media & Development Communications Unit :
When President Ernst Bai Koroma addressed religious leaders at the Miatta Conference Centre today Tuesday 4th November 2014 on the battle against Ebola, he was looking at an audience with more control and influence over the practices and behaviors of Sierra Leoneans than any other group save anecdotally, politicians at election time. Not that election time was any way near the President’s vision or the context of politicians incipient to the President’s mood.
His message was however very serious indeed. The battle against Ebola is better fought if all join hands and can be seen to be singing from the same hymn sheet, to stretch a pun. In his words, the efforts of government would be left to wither if religious leaders are not taking to their people, the government’s message and all the important information that our international partners are giving to the nation on this epidemic.
Ebola is not a virus that is known to this country and given that this is one of the most virulent strain so far, Sierra Leoneans have to learn fast and pay the price whilst learning. Inevitably people will get infected and succumb to it. The rapidity of the virus in means that there is only a momentary lapse for the condition to get hold in a community. The measures already put in place are based on what has been seen to be working but the difficulties faced across the country has been the reluctance of people who abide by their faiths and in so doing, fail to follow laid down prescriptions for managing the virus disease. The general avoidance principle can only be effective if it is followed. When the guidance says that the sick and dying should be taken to mainstream health facilities, any deviation from that rule causes untold deaths through contamination and cross infections. President Koroma addresses issues of cases where faith based practices have caused people to contract the disease unnecessarily and for that matter, showed exasperation that people who are supposed to be leaders of their communities fail to adhere to warnings and general guidelines.
The President would not have addressed a better crowd of people in the frontline of determining behaviors and customs in our communities. There are those who continue to us the epidemic as adverse lessons for their audience. They would rather play the politics of blame instead of supporting the battle to eradicate Ebola in our country. President Koroma would pay short shrift to those who use the influence they have over their congregations to wreck havoc rather than cause a review and rapid change to the way things are done. The issues here must be confused by political messages, or an opportunity to lambast government nor should this preoccupation with the Ebola virus disease relay to the public that Government is in any way incandescent to the sufferings of the people. In a very short time, this government has learnt a lot about what it takes to deploy military police and other security apparatus against an unseen enemy.
The whole world looks in awe at the degradation of nation states by the ostracizing of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia at a time when they are most in need of help from their friends. The tardiness in the response from the international community had to be raised by President Ernest Koroma in a very evocative and forceful manner before certain nations took heed to the call for help. The global nature of our inter-connectedness as world nations has shown more evidently in the cases of sufferers moving from one country to another. The rapidity with which the virus attempted to take hold in Nigeria became subdued only due to the experience Nigeria gleaned from its closeness with Sierra Lone and immediately taking a cue from the Sierra Leone Government’s response to contain the virus, implement effective trace and surveillance to manage its spread. It is lame notable that Sierra Leone itself could not have had that experience from anywhere else because in the midst of this crisis, it is to be realized that the virus in this sub-region of the Mano River Union is the most virulent and aggressive to date. Epidemiologists all over the world have never witnessed this type of virus nor have the splattered pattern of spread been so imbued within a population. With no known medical cure, Sierra Leone’s health system was always under considerable strain to control or contain this virus. Notwithstanding, the country has moved swiftly on to manage the disease, and in time is now approaching a zenith in terms of spikes and would hope to turn the corner very soon indeed.
There is a seeming laxity in the manner in which the messages have thus far been delivered and even to the extent that some people continue to engage in practices that put others at risk says a lot about the efficacy of the message carriers. The temptation to use the calamity of sudden death, the loss of loved ones and the demise of professionals in the care industry is irresistible for some. Those who play to the galleries of such clandestine mediocrity fail to se the humanity in the loss that they decry but attempt instead to run roughshod over the efforts of the very people they decry. The attitude of wanton criticisms, of armchair politicking is undermining the effectiveness of the message and as a result heap calamitous damage to unsuspecting communities. The spread of the requires only a momentary lapse, an absence of care or the insidious destruction of ignorance. When government comes down to the people as the President has done, it is a sign of that shared destinies faced across the country. For now, those who would wish to be maverick preachers or renegade pastors invariably lack a clear focus on what constitutes the national interest.
The pulpit or the podium is not the place to make catalytic statements or sensational claims of how the epidemic is being handled but for once, the opportunity to address the people should be used to pass on health messages of how to avoid and contain the virus. It is incumbent on those who have a responsible approach to this task that is ahead of the country to be more cooperative at this time rather than aggressively reactionary. President Koroma is clear in his admonition to the leaders of religion in this country to desist from unsafe practices and for them to actively support the fight to eradicate this scourge from Sierra Leone and indeed the entire sub-region. This is indeed a time for action and the President’s rallying call should be like a word to the wise, quite sufficient.