By Alhaji M.B. Jalloh :
When the deadly Ebola virus outbreak was announced in West Africa last month, the Government of His Excellency the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma made frantic efforts to ensure that Sierra Leone is protected from the spread of the deadly virus which continues to affect some sisterly West African countries, including neighboring Guinea and Liberia.
Since the outbreak, rumours have been doing the rounds that two persons have died in some parts of Sierra Leone as a result of the Ebola virus. But recently addressing the Sierra Leonean Community in Brussels, President Koroma said the deaths were not related to the deadly virus as confirmed by a team of medical experts which was dispatched to communities very close to the border with Guinea.
To demonstrate that the president cares for the health of every Sierra Leonean, his Government through the Ministry of Health and Sanitation has set up a multi-stakeholder team comprising Health Experts, Non-Governmental Organizations and UN agencies, to lead efforts aimed at containing the disease from crossing over into Sierra Leone from neighboring Guinea, where the death toll is reportedly more than 80.
As the deadly virus continues to spread in the sub-region, some countries have decided to close their borders with Guinea, including Senegal. But according to President Koroma, when addressing the Sierra Leonean community in Brussels, he is not at the moment considering the
“We are very much concerned about the spread of Ebola in Guinea, some medical personnel from United States of America are already in the country to help us conduct medical test for the virus”, the President disclosed. He furthered that the team tested the relatives of the two persons who were claimed to have died from Ebola attack but it was confirmed that they did not die as a result of the dreadful disease.
According to President Koroma, “we will ensure that proper mechanisms are put in place at the border crossing point at Gbalamuya and other areas so that people can be seriously screened before entering into Sierra Leone. The President disclosed that the Minister of Health and Sanitation is briefing him on a daily basis on issues relating to epidemic. The European Union announced recently that it will provide EURO 500,000 to help contain the spread of the deadly virus in Guinea and neighbouring countries in the sub-region, and has sent a team of health experts to Guinea to assess the situation and liaise with local authorities.
According to the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) in the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, Dr. Brima Kargbo, “there is a zero case of Ebola infection in the country.” Addressing the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Health very recently, the CMO told the committee that he Ministry has set up a response team headed by the Minister of Health and Sanitation, Mrs. Miata Kargbo. He added that the team has sub-committees which investigated suspected cases of the deadly virus, conduct surveillance and laboratory tests as well as embark on preventative measures.
Besides, the Health Ministry has created means of raising awareness among communities while it has alerted District Medical Officers in border areas to be proactive in their response to any suspected case of Ebola. Dr. Brima Kargbo said the Health Ministry has developed Ebola messages that are being disseminated to health workers and community members, and that meetings are being held with religious group, commercial bike riders and motor drivers in a bid to disseminate preventive health messages to the public, especially commuters. He warned citizens to minimize their travels to affected areas in neighboring countries. Ebola outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 90 percent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It also said that the virus is fast spreading and can kill an infected person in a matter of days or weeks. There is no vaccine or specific treatment for Ebola, WHO added.
It is crystal clear that efforts by the Government of Sierra Leone to contain the deadly Ebola virus from spreading over into Sierra Leone from neighboring Guinea and Liberia are a manifestation of President Koroma’s determination to improve the health sector for better health service delivery and to respond proactively to a situation like this.
The President also demonstrated in Brussels, when addressing the Sierra Leonean community, that the interest of the people and the country stands above all else. The concerns he raised over the deadly virus, his appeal to health experts from the United States of America to intervene and the daily briefings he gets from the Minister of Health and Sanitation on the epidemic are all indications of his Government’s determination to contain the Ebola virus from spreading into Sierra Leone.
This is not the first time President Koroma’s Government has stepped up efforts in the Health Sector – its introduction of the Free Health Care Initiative on 27th April, 2010, for pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under five are all indications of the Government’s concern for the health of the populace. Prior to the introduction of the initiative, Sierra Leone had the highest mortality rate in the world as had been always indicated by the UN Human Development Index. President Koroma inherited the ugly situation from his predecessors who allegedly made little efforts to help minimize the high mortality rate in the country.
It was against the backdrop of high mortality rate in the country that the President in his wisdom saw it expedient to introduce the Free Health Care Initiative, to help poor Sierra Leoneans who are financially incapacitated to settle the medical bills for their pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under five years. The rapid approach towards containing the deadly Ebola virus from crossing over into Sierra Leone can certainly manifest the seriousness of the Koroma administration about improving the health sector.
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