Ebola – president Koroma speaks to the nation

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 31 July 2014

President Koroma 2014If ever there was a time for president Koroma to demonstrate that he is truly a president of all of Sierra Leone, and a leader that listens to the voice of reasoning, it is now.

Last night, the president addressed the people of Sierra Leone and the world at large, after mounting criticisms about his personal handling of the Ebola tragedy, and the serious lapses of his government in managing its own strategy designed to combat the disease.

With over 500 people now officially diagnosed with the virus and more than 200 dead and the number rising, the president has to change his Ebola management strategy, as well as give more impetus and clear direction to the fight against the disease.

The call for change in strategy has come largely from non-government sponsored media, including the global Times and the Sierra Leone Telegraph, who have continuously advised the president to up his game.

The president has spoken.

Amongst those advice, had been the call for a state of emergency to be declared in and around the epicentre of the Ebola outbreak.

We also demanded that the military and police be given an active and leading role in the fight against the disease, and must be incorporated into the newly formed Presidential Ebola Task Force, which erroneously was intended to comprise of failed cabinet ministers.

To which end, we said that both the military chief of staff and the Inspector General of Police, 2 senior doctors in the country, the Red Cross, and Medicines Sans Frontiers, must be designated members of the  Presidential Ebola Task Force.

Dr khanSpeaking on national television and radio last night, president Koroma paid tribute to the loss of Sierra Leone’s Ebola pioneering doctor who died on Tuesday. He said:

“Today, I ask the entire nation to mourn with the families of our national heroes including Dr. Sheik Humarru Khan who lost their lives battling the Ebola outbreak in our country.

“They were true patriots, paragons of service. We must win this fight in honour of their memory, and with prayers in our hearts, for all our compatriots who are victims of this deadly disease.”

Addressing criticisms that his leadership in fighting Ebola has been poor, the president said: “Since the outbreak, my government, in collaboration with development partners has continued to mobilize and deploy resources and expertise nationally and internationally to fight the disease.

“I have been in contact with world leaders and global partners to meet the challenges; we have set up coordinating mechanisms with the World Health Organization and other international bodies; we set up an inter-ministerial committee to mobilize MDA support activities; trained and deployed hundreds of health workers, contact tracers and burial teams; and facilitated awareness raising on the disease by paramount chiefs, religious leaders, non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, musicians, okada riders, market women, the media and ordinary citizens.”

ebolaAnd in response to the perceived failing of the government in controlling the disease, president Koroma said that:

“The disease is beyond the scope of any one country, or community to defeat. Its social, economic, psychological and security implications require scaling up measures at international, national, inter-agency and community levels.”

But there will always be doubters – irrespective of political persuasion, who looking back upon the performance of the government in the last four months in addressing Ebola, are bound to conclude that the government could have been more proactive, especially in utilising the capability, capacity and legal mandate of the military and the police.

And in response to the ever- growing demand for a state of emergency to be declared in the Ebola affected areas, the president has acquiesced.

He last night announced that: “Extra-ordinary challenges require extra-ordinary measures. The Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) poses an extra-ordinary challenge to our nation. Consequently, and in line with the Constitution of Sierra Leone Act Number 6 of 1991, I hereby proclaim a State of Public Emergency to enable us take a more robust approach to deal with the Ebola outbreak.”

president koroma and obamaCritics have also called upon the president to send his apologies to president Obama and cancelled his trip to the US, where he is expected to join other African leaders at the White House to discuss trade and security.

President Koroma has quite rightly told the people of Sierra Leone that: “In order to continue to take direct control of the situation, I have cancelled my trip to the US-Africa Summit in the United States of America.”

Why president Koroma has failed to delegate to his vice president Sam Sumana to go the African Summit in Washington is a mystery, and will provoke further suspicion that the president is continuing to politically marginalise his vice president.

But the president has been working very hard on a sub-regional wide approach to tackling the disease, and this he will continue to do.

He announced last night that: “On Friday, I will be travelling to Conakry, Guinea to meet with my colleague Heads of State of the Mano River Union to discuss our sub-regional strategies to defeat the disease.”

Last week, when president Koroma met with international development partners and stakeholders in Freetown, he told them the government was working on a new strategic approach to combating the virus.

He referred to this new approach as the National Response Plan (NRP). The president also vowed fervently last week that, with this new approach; “Ebola will be eradicated in Sierra Leone within 60 to 90 days”.

But critics say that this over ambitious pledge by the president will one day come to haunt him.

The Red cross and international scientists believe that the virus in West Africa will take at least six months, before serious progress can be achieved.

president koroma in parlaimentBut president Koroma is marching on.

Announcing the launch of his new Ebola disaster management approach, and his twelve point plan of action, the president said last night that:

“We are launching a National Response Plan to inaugurate Phase Two of our fight against the disease.

“I also hereby establish a Presidential Task Force on Ebola which I will chair to champion the implementation of the following:

1. All epicenters of the disease will be quarantined

2. The police and the military will give support to health officers and NGOs to do their work unhindered and restrict movements to and from epicentre

3. Localities and homes where the disease is identified will be quarantined until cleared by medical teams

4. Public meetings and gatherings will be restricted with the exception of essential meetings related to Ebola sensitization and education

5. Active surveillance and house-to-house searches shall be conducted to trace and quarantine Ebola victims and suspects

6. Parliament is recalled to promote MPs leadership at constituency levels

7. Paramount chiefs are required to establish bye-laws that would complement other efforts to deal with the Ebola outbreak

8. Mayors, chairmen of councils and councillors are hereby required to support Ebola control measures in their local government areas

9. All deaths must be reported authorities before burial

10. New protocols for arriving and departing passengers have been instituted at the Lungi International Airport

 11. Cancellation of all foreign trips by ministers and other government officials except absolutely essential engagements

 12. These measures will initially be implemented for a period of 60 to 90 days, and subsequent measures will be announced as and when necessary.”

There have been very strong public and media criticisms of the government’s handling of funds donated by well wishers as well as the international donors, and the glaring lack of transparency and accountability.

ACC LOGO - corruptionThis, they say is another evidence of a corrupt government.

In response to this criticism, president Koroma last night announced measures aimed at promoting transparency and accountability.

He said that: “In addition, Government is establishing a special account for donations from corporate interests, organizations, the Diaspora and the general public to support the fight against Ebola.”

But he did not say that he will ensure that reports as to how the monies are being spent will be published and the accounts audited.

Finally, in honour of the memory of all those that have died as a result of the virus, president Koroma has taken an unprecedented decision, calling for a national day of remembrance.

He said: “I also hereby declare Monday August 4, 2014 a National Stay at Home Day for Family Reflection, Education and Prayers on the Ebola outbreak.”

President Koroma reiterated his call for concerted action from all Sierra Leoneans irrespective of tribe, religion and politics.

He said Ebola “is a national fight, and it behoves all of us to stand together to promote the truth about this deadly disease. Ebola is real, and we must stop its transmission.”

Ebola centre in Guinea“There have been over 130 survivors of the disease. There is hope that early detection of the virus in persons can boost their chances of survival.”

“This is why it is very necessary to get those with the virus to treatment centres not only to prevent others from contracting the virus, but also increasing their own chances of survival.”

“Sierra Leone is in a great fight. We are a resilient people. And we must not fail. The sustainability of our actions for prosperity depends on winning this fight. Failure is not an option. We all need to come together to win this battle.”

With over 500 people in Sierra Leone so far diagnosed with the disease and more than 200 dead, all eyes are now on president Koroma’s new Ebola plan of action –  the ‘National Response Plan (NRP)’ and the new  ‘Presidential Ebola Task Force’.

Will president Koroma achieve his 90 days Ebola eradication target?

A tall order you might think, but at least, he now has what looks like a credible and sustainable approach to tackling the disease.

And as he himself asserted last night: “Failure is not an option.”

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