The Doomsayers of Sierra Leone are at it again


By Mohamed Sankoh (One Drop) :

In biblical terms; there is no plague that does not have an ending. Equally so, even in medical terms, there is no epidemic that cannot be controlled and lidded back into the genie bottle; which is why I strongly believe that the current Ebola epidemic now slicing parts of the body politick of Sierra Leone will, surely, come to pass.

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But the doomsayers are using every logic and medical terminology to paint bleak pictures of the current state of affairs in Sierra Leone; trying to convince even the strong-willed Sierra Leonean that very soon the country will be faced with an apocalypse that will translate their doomsday conspiracy theories into reality. Their statistics of those who have died of the Ebola virus and those infected with the Ebola disease are as frightening as they are real like the presence of the Ebola virus itself.

And the recent of those recent doomsayers is Dr Daniel Lucey, an expert on viral outbreaks and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Medical Centre. For starters, Dr Lucey recently spent three weeks in Sierra Leone evaluating and treating Ebola patients, and also training other doctors and nurses on how to use protective equipment. And after his sojourn, his assessment of the country’s situation is as fear-provoking as it is frightening. He has predicted that the current Ebola outbreak will go on for more than a year, and will continue to spread unless a vaccine or other drugs that prevent or treat the disease are developed.

That shorthanded prediction of Dr Lucey, if translated into longhand, might mean that by the time the Ebola virus burns itself out, it might have claimed about a quarter of a million Sierra Leoneans’ lives. That also, when translated into real terms, may mean that by the time the country faces a post-Ebola period, the byword for Sierra Leone might be: a graveyard.
But such frightening statistics and predictions are needed as meat to feed the daily beasts called the media. They are pretty well needed to serve as fodders to quench some international organizations’ thirst for more funding or to up their shoe-stringed budgets. And the media, traditionally, strive on or feed on the “when the dog bites a man that is no news; but when the man bites the dog, that is news”. So, why should the positives be harped on when the negatives might bring in more attentions and funds to the doomsayers and their organizations?

But even in the midst of squalor, a beautiful flower might blossom (so says one African writer whose name I might have eaten with Potato Leaves which is why his name is now at the back of my mind where things are easily forgotten). That’s why I strongly believe that if we, as media professionals, use our energies in dwelling on the positives surrounding the Ebola epidemic then many lives might be saved. In times of troubles, plagues, wars, and other forms of human catastrophes; people need hope more than everything else—even more than faith. And giving Ebola infected persons and Ebola victims’ families hope might rekindle their faith in their will to live and outlive the current plague plaguing the country.

And some of those who are now infected with the Ebola virus might be healed by just being hopeful that the coming in to Sierra Leone this October of 63 Cuban doctors and 102 nurses, epidemiologists, specialists in infection control, intensive care specialists and social mobilization officers to give helping hands to the weak healthcare system in the country might be the clichéd ray of hope at the tunnel’s end. The Sierra Leonean media should be harping on the ray-hope fact that these Cuban specialists would be in the country for six months, which might make comedy of Dr Lucey’s doomsday tragic prediction for the country.
But instead of dwelling on positive news like the Cuban medical specialists’ arrivals, and the fact that even in the midst of an Ebola outbreak a Sierra Leonean pupil from the Sierra Leone Grammar School tops all pupils in West Africa in this year’s WASSCE; all what most people concentrate on are the deaths of Dr Khan, Dr Cole, and recently Dr Olivette Buck and other bleak narratives of the Ebola epidemic.
I’m not advocating for the truth about the Ebola epidemic to be clouded in and shrouded with lies and deliberate misinformation as most of the so-called “Communications Experts” in government are now doing or engaged in. What I’m saying (sorry—writing in this case) , in disrobed English, is that the communications surrounding the Ebola outbreak should be so tactfully managed in such a manner that Sierra Leoneans should not get the sick feeling that their country has already boarded an apocalyptic boat which is coursing towards an abyss.

And the manner in which some Sierra Leoneans have been gloating over the bleak statistics, deaths, and some of the topsy-turvy issues surrounding the Ebola epidemic shows that they are still failing to come to terms with the fact that the epidemic is a national tragedy rather than a political or regional issue. The current Ebola outbreak should be confronted with a multi-partisan (bi-partisan would be a misnomer here because Sierra Leone is a multi-party democracy) focus, approach and energy, as the virus is no respecter of political parties or regions.

I am not holding brief for the government on the Ebola issue because at the initial stage of the outbreak there were many things and issues that got bungled up—thanks to an inept former Health and Sanitation Minister, Miatta Kargbo, and the current Information and Communications Minister, Alpha Kanu, who seems to be suffering from cholera of the mouth. But if we, as a nation, decide to put the past mistakes behind us and focus on the strides which the Koroma-led administration is making at the moment to wipe out the epidemic from the country, then the way forward will be the way forward.
It is on that note that I will end today’s One Dropian dropping with a quote from (or should I write “of”?) Francis Bacon that, “If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties”. Do I make any point?

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