Update on Ebola in Sierra Leone by the NERC CEO Major Palor Conteh


Statement by CEO – Wednesday 03 Dec 14
Good afternoon everyone and thank you once again for attending today’s press



The eyes of the World have been focused on our Region, and our Country, over the
past few days, more than we would normally experience. As you are aware this
Monday represented the date by which the 70-70-60 UNMEER target had been set
and we were privileged to have both David Nabarro and Tony Banbury present with
us on this important date. Along with our other key partners UNMEER, with all its
resources and specifically its huge network of subject matter experts, is critical to
our fight against Ebola. We are hugely grateful for their work to date and I know
there is a lot more support to come from UNMEER over the next few months.
Similarly we are incredibly grateful for the support of the World Bank. As I speak we
have the President of the World Bank, Dr Jim Yong Kim, here in Freetown. I met with
him this morning when HE The President hosted a meeting at State House and I
would like to thank him again for his support and that of his team here in Sierra


These milestones give us a chance to take stock of where we have got to and what
we have achieved, as well as what more must be done. It is all too easy to criticize,
to focus on negative issues and all too easy to forget about the huge steps forward
that are being made day by day.

So, let’s take a moment to pause, take stock and assess where we are.
A recent Ebola Perception Study conducted by FOCUS 1000 with the support of the
Ministry of Health and Sanitation, CDC, and UNICEF has shown that awareness and
knowledge of Ebola has increased significantly.
The study, which was conducted in mid-October revealed that over 90% of
respondents reported that they would go to a hospital if they had a fever or
suspected they had Ebola. The study also showed that there been a significant
reduction in stigmatization of Ebola Survivors, with an 81% reduction in the
proportion of respondents who would not welcome back a neighbour who had
survived and recovered from Ebola.

However, we must remain vigilant, approximately one-third of respondents revealed
that if a family member died at home they would not accept alternatives to
traditional funerals or burials. Of concern, 10% of respondents stated they would
touch the body and 13% said they would not wait for a burial team. Western area
had the highest rate of negative attitudes towards safe and dignified burials
compared to other regions.
With these findings we know that we should focus attention on our traditional burial
and funeral rites. We must find alternative ways to honour our family members who
are dying or have died from Ebola.

The social mobilization campaign should move down to the community, to household and individual level to ensure that people
refrain from touching and washing dead bodies.
I have said it at every press conference and I will continue to repeat it at every
opportunity that people in Sierra Leone must change their behaviour if we are going
to stand a chance to defeat Ebola. This is happening, social mobilization is working,
but it is taking too long and some people, particularly in the Western Area appear
very stubborn and resistant to change. You can see that the process to change
attitudes around traditional burial practices remains our greatest challenge.
In the past month, the heart of the NERC Command and Control Centre, the
Situation Room, become a fully functioning Headquarters, we have fully operational
District Ebola Response Centres in the Western Area, Port Loko, Bombali, Kambia
and Moyamba. These DERC’s have grown significantly in capability in the last few
weeks and their ability to react to the constantly changing events of the ground
improves exponentially.

We all know that the numbers of those infected by Ebola has increased over the past
few weeks and sadly this number continues to climb. However, during the same
period the number of holding and treatment beds has increased dramatically, up to
the 24th of November over 400 beds have come online. The result of which is that
we will be able to remove the sick from our communities, reduce the risk of further
transmission, assess their condition and treat them accordingly.

Kenema, Kailahun, Lunsar, Lakka and Bo, Wilberforce and Waterloo, all have seen
bed facilities open up. Port Loko, Hastings, Makeni and Moyamba all have 100 bed
facilities completing construction in the next two weeks and Goderich was handed
over to Emergency last weekend. Kerry Town has had its fair share of criticism but
there you have a superb 80+ bed facility growing in capacity daily. I have personally
spoken to Save the Children to ensure they are getting a grip of the situation and
that they will pull out all the stops to turn this around without delay; I assure you I
will hold their feet to the fire on this. Many lessons have been learnt here, which
can be seen as a positive as it means we are even more aware of the complexities
involved and when new large centres are completed we can all work together to get
these occupied as soon as possible by those who most need the space. I cannot
thank the British Royal Engineers enough, and their partners, for turning bare fields
into fully functioning treatment facilities in less than 2 months, now let’s make the
most of them!

Lab capacity increases week by week, in the past 5 weeks we have trained over
4,000 additional staff to work in treatment and holding centres and we are still
training Prison Officers in raising their awareness of Ebola. My thanks to our British
Medical Troops for their help and vital work.
Lungi Airport, received a much welcomed positive report from the EU/WHO team
who recently came to review the current screening procedures in Freetown as well
as Conakry and Monrovia. The report stated that the likelihood of a febrile passenger being allowed to board a flight is close to nil and that the procedures in
place are well functioning. This provides greater reassurance to the outside World
that we are doing all that we can to secure one of our most vital communications

We now have well over 90 burials teams working across the country, where as 6
weeks ago we only had less than 50. The work of these burial teams is critical, the
World Vision UK consortium, CAFOD and CRS and for the additional partnership with
Concern working in the Western Area, a £2.8M project, again funded by DFID are all
working together to achieve 100% of burials within 24 hours, if not quicker.
Paramount Chiefs are engaging more and more to bring about change in peoples
behaviour in their Chiefdoms. Those who fail to achieve the stringent standards
expected are being removed; those who excel and ensure the protection of their
communities have their hard work acknowledged at the highest of levels.
Amongst our messaging this week we are focusing on ‘Celebrating Survivors’.
The last few weeks have proved that if you get treatment early, if you seek help as
soon as possible you are far more likely to survive this horrific disease and return
home to your families and communities. We have heard to fabulous news that
Captain Dr Komba Songu Mbrwa, who was taken ill with Ebola has recently tested
negative, this is what can happen if you change your behaviour and abide by the
simple health messages that are constantly being disseminated throughout the

Yes, there is much to do. Yes, we still have to break the transmission rates. Yes, we
have a long way to go. But, yes, we can and will defeat Ebola. I warned you that it
would get worse before it gets better. We must redouble our efforts but we must
hold our nerve.

So, if you are sick, get treatment early. Do not touch people who are ill, do not wash
dead bodies, call 117 and seek a safe medical burial. It’s up to all of us and only we
can solve this problem and only we can stop the transmission rate.
Together we will defeat Ebola.
Thank you again and I look forward to taking your questions.

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