By Jaramenajara and Thullah Wise
A French expert in tropical diseases, Michel Gonza, has stated in an exclusive interview with Radio France International that Sierra Leone is in the right direction in the fight against Ebola taking into consideration the level of social mobilization, sensitization and the public response associated with the “Ose to Ose Ebola Tok Campaign” organized some few weeks back. The French expert in his analysis said that in neighbouring Guinea information is not accessible to people and that has adversely affected the activities of the volunteers to achieve their aims. The horrible hostilities against health personnel, for example, the killing of nine health workers and undue harassment of health officials have far reaching consequences for the fight against Ebola in that country.
The outbreak of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) has been a bizarre experience to Sierra Leoneans. Yes! It is bizarre. This is an outbreak that has recorded debilitating human, economic and capital consequences on a country that was exalted and taken as an exemplary case for its post war recovery pace and its development surge. Sierra Leone once described as a war torn country turned out to be a nation of peace, economic recovery and a nation with an overwhelming zest to transform and exploit its growth potential for the betterment of its people. The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon did not minced his words by stating that Sierra Leone represents one of the world’s most successful cases of post-conflict recovery, peacekeeping and peace-building. “Here we have seen great strides towards peace, stability and long term development. Sierra Leoneans can be proud of the Special Court a landmark in global struggle against the worst crimes,” the UN Chief told journalists during a joint press conference with President Ernest Bai Koroma at State House.
The Ebola Virus disease struck at a time when the country was strengthening and reconstructing the already compromised health system inherited from the previous government. Two weeks ago, President Koroma said at a high level UN meeting on international response to Ebola; “We were rebuilding our infrastructure, increasing our growth rates, enhancing our peace, and strengthening our democracy. We still had a long way to go, but the world was also lauding us for doing many things right, for being a symbol of fast paced recovery from war. We were gearing up our compromised health systems to fight the known ailments of our land like malaria and typhoid when Ebola struck.”
US President Barack Obama informed world leaders at the UN high level meeting on Ebola that the disease is horrific. “It’s wiping out whole families. And it has turned simple acts of love and comfort – like holding a sick friend’s hand, or embracing a dying child – into potentially fatal acts. If ever there were a public health emergency deserving of an urgent, strong and coordinated international response, this is it,” he urged. He described the outbreak as a growing threat to regional and global security and noted that Ebola is more than a health crisis. “In Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, public health systems are near collapse. Economic growth is slowing dramatically. If this epidemic is not stopped, this disease could cause a humanitarian catastrophe across the region. In an era when regional crises can quickly become global threats, stopping Ebola is in the interests of the entire world.”
“As a country we have taken extra-ordinary measures, including declaring a state of Emergency, shutting down the country for three days to get over 27,000 health educators unto every household in the country, and reallocating millions of dollars from other vital services to this life and death struggle,” President Koroma said during his videoconference meeting with world leaders on the sidelines of the UNGA Summit in New York. Immediately when this government assumed the reins of power in 2007, it prioritized the health sector as an engine of socio-economic growth and development as was encapsulated in the Agenda for Change. Frantic efforts were made in reducing both maternal and infant mortality which was largely dependent on the introduction of the Free Health Care Initiative in 2010. The government being concerned about the health of the country’s human resource has demonstrated firm commitment in addressing pertinent and relevant issues of concern in the health sector.
The Ebola outbreak being bizarre and a new experience to the nation has posed serious challenges to the health sector. It is against these daunting challenges that government has relentlessly and proactively come up with measures to contain the spread of the virus. The measures particularly the recently concluded three days stay at home yielded immense dividend to both the government and the overall effort of Sierra Leoneans and the international community. The three days stay at home served as a leap frog and provided the needed concerted effort that we require as citizens as we all clamour for the eradication and the containment of this dreadful disease. With the glaring effects of the measures in containing the virus coupled with heeding to preliminary and precautionary measures given by health workers, it is very evident that with collective effort the war against Ebola will be won soon.
As a matter of fact, the fight against Ebola requires effective and intensified contact investigation, surveillance and monitoring, social mobilization, and increased sensitization that will engender the anticipated public response. The Government of Sierra Leone through Ministry of Health and Sanitation being aware of that aspect of the fight established an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) that was cascaded to all districts nationwide. The District Health Management Teams ((DHMTs) are charged with the responsibility of coordinating the health needs of the various districts. They are placed in a pivotal position in the fight against this dreadful virus. The importance of sensitization need not be overemphasized and the collective efforts of the citizenry were marveled at by the international community during the three day “Ose-to-Ose Ebola Tok” campaign. The manner in which Sierra Leoneans demonstrated their spirit of nationalism was just amazing and the envisaged response of citizens coupled with the willingness of volunteers in discharging their functions was a showcase of the national efforts in the fight against this scourge.
There has been a swift response to logistics. The government has just procured additional ambulances and forty additional pick up vans to facilitate response of contact tracers, surveillance officers and burial teams across the country. Also, it has constructed the largest treatment center at Hastings, which had recently discharged 49 survivors of the virus. Holding and isolation centers have also been established at Lakka to boost the national response to the outbreak.
The government has also been engaging and making effective use of the media since the outbreak was announced and had enhanced a fruitful partnership with the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), and that was largely manifested in collaboration with the Independent Radio Network (IRN) during the three days stay at home exercise. Therefore, it is obvious to draw a logical inference that the country has been on the right path to containing the disease as that has necessitated the analysis for the French expert that Sierra Leone is top in the effort to eradicate Ebola in West Africa. As Sierra Leone continues to engender support from well wishers, it is widely believed that this may not be unconnected to the government open door policies to halt the further spread of the disease.
To crown it all, the newly appointed Special Representative and Head of the United Nation’s Mission on Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), Mr. Anthony Banbury said that Sierra Leone was 100% successful in its national efforts and called on all to bolster the national capacity so that such an outbreak cannot reemerge. He assured the President that the UNMEER team will be in the country until the last case of Ebola is contained.