By Alhaji Jalloh -Press Attache in Saudi Arabia .
Sierra Leone’s envoy to Saudi Arabia has on Wednesday, 5th November, 2014 told a joint resource mobilization conference for controlling Ebola about the efforts his Government had undertaken to eradicate the epidemic.
The 3 in the center of the high table, Saudi Deputy Health Minister, Secretary General of OIC, and IDB President
Speaking at the conference organized by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) at the former’s headquarters in Jeddah, Ambassador Alhaji Mohamed Sillah Kargbo disclosed that the Sierra Leone Government had spent about 30, 000,000.00 US Dollars (Thirty Million U.S Dollars) of its own resources since the outbreak of the disease in May this year.
He also disclosed the International assistance his Government had received from its partners, including the British, the Chinese, MSF, WHO, the Red Cross, among others and appealed for more support in the fight against the scourge. He said the conference was timely and expressed its huge importance. “In fact it is so huge that the Government of Sierra Leone had arranged for a high powered delegation comprising the Minister of Information and Communications, the Minister of Health and Sanitation and the Chief Medical Officer to attend,” he told the conference.
This, he added, was not possible due to the fact that many airlines serving Sierra Leone have suspended their services and the earliest the delegation could have arrived here would have been this evening at 6 15 P.M, long after this conference will have been over. “This is why I am standing here as the Ambassador to deliver a statement on behalf of my Government,” he concluded. (See attachment and full speech below).
Meanwhile, the Jeddah conference announced an urgent financial assistance to countries affected by the Ebola epidemic. Many of the organizations, institutions and individuals who attended the Conference expressed their readiness to provide financial and technical assistance to advance the health systems and structures in the affected countries. They also made pledges amounting to millions of U.S Dollars and promised to send equipment and supplies, material resources, as well as trained heath workers and associated work force.
The conference reiterated the need for effective, coordinated and speedy response to the epidemic. It also noted the necessity of community mobilization, creating public awareness and educating people in dealing with situations resulting from this epidemic. The conference, which was chaired by the Deputy Saudi Health Minister, Dr. Mansour Nasser Alhowasi, was attended by representatives of the World Health Organization (WHO), Medicines Sans Frontiers’ (MSF), Ministers and Deputy Ministers of Health and some high-level delegations from OIC member states.
Ambassador Kargbo and his Guinean counterpart in Saudi at the conference
Representatives of the Office of the US President’s Special Envoy to the OIC and the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) were also in attendance. Sierra Leone’s Ambassador was also accompanied by the Head of Chancery, Umaru Dura and the Press Attaché. A Sierra Leonean Professor from the University of San Francisco, Department of Modern and Classical Languages, Dr. Ahmed S. Bangura who is a member of a U.S based Foundation for West Africa also formed part of the Sierra Leone delegation.
In their welcoming remarks at the opening session of the Conference, the Secretary General of the OIC, Mr. Iyad Ameen Madani and the President of IDB, Dr. Ahmad Mohamed Ali, conveyed their sympathy with and support for the peoples and governments of the affected countries and recounted the efforts exerted by their organizations since the start of the outbreak earlier this year.
The participants in the Conference appreciated the OIC and IDB for their timely initiative and expressed the hope that the assistance package put together would meaningfully and effectively contribute to the international effort to control the Ebola Virus Disease.
Ambassador Kargbo preparing to address the conference
STATEMENT DELIVERED BY HIS EXCELLENCY AMBASSADOR ALHAJI MOHAMED SILLAH KARGBO – AMBASSADOR OF THE REPUBLIC OF SIERRA LEONE AT THE JOINT OIC-IDB CONFERENCE OF NOGs AND PHILANTHROPISTS TO MOBILIZE RESOURCES TO PARTICIPATE IN THE EFFORT TO CONTROL THE EBOLA VIRUS DISEASE – OIC HEADQUARTERS, JEDDAH –KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA – 5TH NOVEMBER 2014
Mr. Chairman, Your Royal Highnesses
Please permit me to stand on existing protocols as the matter under discussion is one of urgent noble intentions that has evoked your very innate humanitarian sentiments to congregate here voluntarily in order to bring relief, succor and hope to the Ebola stricken people of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
Mr. Chairman, let me on behalf of His Excellency President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone express our heartfelt gratitude for the invitation extended to our country to participate in this important conference and secondly and more importantly, to thank the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and Islamic Development Bank (IDB) for jointly organizing this conference in this beautiful city of Jeddah. I bring you greetings and felicitations from His Excellency, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Government and People of Sierra Leone to the Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, the Government and the generous People of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
In times of crisis, it is good to know that our three nations: Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia still have people who are willing to meet with us and Mobilize resources on our behalf in order to rapidly bring this looming calamity of the Ebola viral epidemic to an end.
Your Royal Highnesses
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
It is also important to know that Sierra Leone is a country of 6 million people with a Muslim proportion of about 70%.Since the beginning of the Ebola epidemic in May of this year, over 1000 people have succumbed to the disease including 5 medical doctors and a painfully substantial number of nurses and auxiliary health workers. This is so because medical personnel are at the forefront of the fight against Ebola. They are the generals and the troops in this war against this unknown virus in our region.
However, of the nearly 3,000 people who have been infected, nearly 850 have been treated successfully and have survived the disease. This situation has given us the hope that the virus can be contained and the disease can be treated, contrary to initial comments that contracting the disease means an automatic death sentence.
We have received help from the International Community, including the Islamic Development Bank which contributed the sum of 300,000 US Dollars to Sierra Leone’s effort to eradicate the disease. The efforts undertaken by our own government are huge relative to the size of our economy. So far, government has spent over 30, 000,000.00 US Dollars of our own resources in the fight against the disease.
This effort, together with the International assistance is huge but not nearly enough. Resources have also been committed, but lot of this is not yet on the ground.
The disease is spreading at a very rapid rate and efforts to catch up with it are lagging far behind mainly due to inadequate resources – human, material and financial. President Ernest Bai Koroma, in an effort to step up the response to the epidemic, ordered a complete Lockdown of the whole country for 3 days in September in order to encourage the sick to report to treatment centers where they could be cared for. However, this exercise though successful in purpose, was short in delivery due to the limited number of treatment beds available at the time. Government has now stepped up the efforts to build treatment centers. The logistical nightmares of coordinating all the activities for a seamless operation from tracing to isolation and treating to burial activities present a huge challenge.
Mr. Chairman, you can therefore see why today’s conference is of such a huge importance to us. In fact it is so huge that the government of Sierra Leone had arranged for a high powered delegation comprising the Minister of Information and Communications, the Minister of Health and the Chief Medical Officer to attend.
This was not possible due to the fact that many airlines serving Sierra Leone have suspended their services and the earliest the delegation could get here would have been this evening at 6:15 p.m. long after this conference will have been over. This is why I am standing here as the Ambassador to deliver this statement on behalf of my Government.
Mr. Chairman, I am here with my delegation from Riyadh because the fight on the ground in Sierra Leone urgently needs the support of people gathered here. With your support we will end this outbreak at a faster rate; but without your quick response, a tragedy unforeseen in modern times would threaten the wellbeing and compromise the security of people everywhere. This is not a disease we brought upon ourselves; West Africa, and indeed the whole world were not prepared to combat this major threat to human survival. In Sierra Leone we were implementing policies that were making our country one of the fastest growing economies in the world; the United Nations Security Council was lauding us as an example of a nation with a fast paced recovery from war; we were contributing troops to fight terrorists in Africa and deliver peace in other regions. With support from our partners, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, BADEA and other countries in this region, we were implementing infrastructural projects and gearing up our fragile health systems to combat the known ailments in our land like malaria and typhoid when Ebola struck.
Your Royal Highnesses,
Prior to the outbreak of the disease, the economy grew by 14 percent in 2013 and was projected by the IMF to grow by 11.3 percent in 2014. But the disruption to agricultural, mining, manufacturing, construction, tourism and transportation following the outbreak of the Ebola disease poses a significant threat to human development, state security, and poverty reduction. Government revenues are drying up; the livelihood of our people compromised. Today, Sierra Leone may be at the battlefront of this current outbreak, but like terrorism, this is a fight for all of us. Our Objective now is to break the chain of transmission of the disease and stop its spread. The way to do this is to ensure safe burial of those who died of Ebola; remove the infected from communities unto holding and treatment centers; and hasten Ebola tests. We have started scoring successes in ensuring safe burial; we are also increasing the number of treatment centers and lab facilities to conduct tests for Ebola. But more needs to be done.
We seek effective and enduring partnerships at three levels of direct intervention – the household, the community and the treatment center level. With supports from our partners, including the British, the Chinese, the MSF, the Red Cross and others, we currently have six treatment centers, with the seventh to be opened today, November 5th in Kerry Town, a few kilometers outside the capital, Freetown. The total bed capacities of all these treatment centers are 429. This is smaller than the minimum 1000 bed capacity needed in the country to stay ahead of the virus. An additional 7 treatment centers are been built. But we need additional one each in the northern districts of Koinadugu, Bombali and Kambia, making a total of three treatment centers. We also require holding centers in the eastern district of Kono and Pujehun in the south. These treatment centers could hold 50 to 100 beds.
Treatment centers need personnel, and the country is in dire need of these personnel, for without them, treatment centers are non-operational. For instance, the international health worker to bed ratio is 3.5 personnel per bed. Therefore, a treatment center of 50 beds would require 175 personnel to run it, with the ratio been 25 doctors, 100 nurses, and 25 other health workers to effectively and safely operate it. A 100-bed treatment center would require 350 personnel. These personnel would work in shifts to ensure safe and effective care of patients. We seek support in getting more personnel to the country, support in training for national and other health workers in the country. Critically we need more doctors, nurses, infection control specialists, hygienists, nutritionists, epidemiologists and counselors.
Your Royal Highnesses,
With support from our partners, including the World Bank, the UN the British and others we have increased the availability of critical logistics and equipment, but more needs to be acquired. These include ambulances, vehicles and motor bikes, PPEs, IV fluids, anti-bodies for super imposed infections, vitamins and food supplies. We would need additional ambulances to service the nationwide network of treatment centers and community Ebola care units and more motor bikes for contact tracers and 4WD utility vehicles for supervisors, surveillance officers, and burial teams. Very critical in all this are lab services for diagnosis of the suspected and confirmation of causes of death to ensure safe burial practices. With the aid of the South Africans, the Chinese and British, Lab capacities in the country are increasing, and most of the new treatment centers that are being built will have lab facilities for testing Ebola. But the country needs more, especially mobile labs that could be moved to hotspots of new infections to get quick results and removal of persons unto treatment centers. Labs are gateways unto treatment centers, without them functioning properly more could remain in communities and continue the transmission of the disease. We need these labs to enhance quick turnaround from the taking of samples to the presentation of results.
Your Royal Highnesses
Millions of dollars are also required to pay the thousands of health workers that would be deployed; millions of dollars are needed to shore up drug, food and other basic supplies and logistics. At the community level, a package of support is needed to enable removal of those showing signs of the disease out of households and unto Community Ebola Care and holding Centers pending confirmation of tests and transfer to treatment centers. The country needs a network of small 20-bed capacity community holding centers in our various chiefdoms. Because of the urgency of the situation, these Community Ebola Care Centers could be easily deployable well-fitted tents for now, as we move to build stronger physical structures in the medium term.
Ebola is a disease of the household, and this makes family members the first responders to the illness and very vulnerable to getting infected and spreading infection through common household practices like touching the sick and mourning the dead. Support is required at the household level to enable households to safely deal with instances of illness, bereavement and temporary isolation. The package of support would include information on handling the sick, simple protective materials, and food for isolated homes. Our Ebola awareness and education programs are resulting in youths, chiefs, women, traders and communities organizing across the country to end Ebola; we need to support them. Figures show that around half of victims got infected around funerals.
About 70% of Sierra Leoneans are Muslims, and Muslims handle corpses in much more personal ways, including washing and ensuring faster burials than other communities, thus Muslims and Imams have been hardest hit by these practices. We are a people that care for our sick and dead in very personal ways and these practices of generations are now sources of great death and tragedy. We are ready to suspend these practices, but we need support with medical oversight, appropriate logistics, and training for thousands of surveillance officers, contact tracers and burial teams at the community level.
Mr. Chairman, the Ebola outbreak is devastating for children and women and communities and these would need psychosocial support; orphans would need care, widows require support, and survivors help with meeting the challenges of stigmatization. For orphans the short-term challenge is looking after them, and later placing them in homes and orphanages. We know it is beyond the capacity of any one country to provide adequate support for the fight against Ebola. But countries, foundations and other organizations may decide to take on particular packages of support. This could include supporting the establishment of a chain of treatments centers and labs; to providing clinicians, nurses, lab technicians, ambulances; to ensuring training in safely treating Ebola victims for clinicians and nurses; training in handling of Ebola corpses; and training for the thousands of critical corps of burial teams, surveillance officers and contact tracers. This is an emergency response, but sustainability must be integrated into it in order to enable the country to respond more quickly to a recurrence of the Ebola after this current one. The literature tells us that Ebola outbreak often recurs in all the countries that it had manifested itself. This would therefore require the medium term transformation of many of makeshift centers into permanent; this would require ongoing training of health personnel in the country; this would require placement of health assets in strategic areas in the country to facilitate faster response. This may require support towards the establishment of a National Public Health Institute with surge capacities to deal with future outbreaks. Sustainability would also require support, as we reverse Ebola, to kick start the economy again in order to restore livelihoods, prevent more suffering; and strengthen our capacity for partnerships in peace-building, for good governance, and socio-economic development.
Your Royal Highnesses
These are moments for all of us to rise up to humanity’s truest ideals of solidarity and support; we are here in the land of the Kaa’ba, the holy sanctuary that the overwhelming majority of our citizens turn towards as they pray to Allah; this is a land that Allah has bestowed His great mercy upon as a center of pilgrimage, charity, and prayers. We ask for your prayers unto Allah to strengthen our capacities to end this disease, for strength to console victims, for resources to heal the sick, care for orphans, uplift the victims and save our people. We are here to ask for your support. The situation is new, complex and evolving.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, it now time for fast tracking the translation of commitments to positive facts of response on the ground. This is a race to get ahead of this satanic disease; this is a race for all of us; we come here with a firm belief in the values of support and solidarity that our common faith instructs us to uphold; we come here with firm belief in the fact that he who acts to save one life is as if he is acting to save the whole of humanity. We believe that the people gathered here today will urgently respond to the call of Sierra Leone, the call of West Africa, to support us end this trail of death. We are hopeful; we shall win this fight; with the support of the Almighty Allah and your support.
Many thanks, and Peace be upon you all.