Ebola Stigma – an enemy within

John Baimba Sesay – China

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 15 October 2014

John  Baimba (2)Just the other day, I had rushed down town, Central Beijing (Yashow) for some sunglasses, when I met this Dutch businessman, himself searching for the same. Pleasantries were exchanged, given the friendly nature of the typical Sierra Leonean, always ready to make and meet new friends and expand on the beautiful features of humanity.

Curious, he appeared from his facial expression. His next question was to know whether I was a South African.  “No, I Am a Sierra Leonean Diplomat here in China!” I told him.

Next reaction – his eyes became widely opened like a sliding electric door waiting for someone wanting to enter.

And next from his lips was: “what about the Ebola – I see the world is now fully aware about it and everyone is now acting?” “Yes, we do have that challenge at the moment”, I told him “but we shall overcome”, I assured him confidently.

“Had the world acted promptly, we could not have gone thus far, but thank God we are all acting now. As a country, we do appreciate the intervention of the International Community and I am in particular thankful to China, who came in promptly,” I told him.

In fact, I brought up the issue of how we have been progressing in the last couple of years – building our infrastructure, fixing our economy, amongst other development initiatives, “when this Ebola came from nowhere. But we are a resilient people and we shall overcome.”

Ebola protective wear from chinaThe discussion came to an end. But no handshakes, no body contact; and off we went our separate ways. I sensed his unwillingness to even touch me. This is just one story, as I met some Asians who asked similar questions, and their body language from their reactions was similar to that of my ‘new friend’ the Dutch.

In fact, a Chinese friend was apparently not too happy, but could not dictate my wish when I told him; “I am contemplating to visit my country and see my family members in the coming weeks.” He referenced the Ebola Virus and cautioned me to “take all precautionary measures necessary.”

“Thanks for your concern which I truly appreciate, but Sierra Leone is the only country I call home and I have no option but to visit when the need arises.”

I have read testimonies on a lot of Watsapp Groups on how Sierra Leoneans are being stigmatized especially when travelling.

okada rioters1I have seen how the ‘world media’ is even making things worse, when it comes to Ebola reportage.

Some have ignored the real issues, rather serving as a social and political barometer to determine the level of trust or otherwise between the governors and the governed.

The most affected nations were by no means prepared to face this challenge.

Ebola is like an unexpected stranger in an African setting, who arrives today and informs of how he would wish to get back to the village the next day, but with a plethora of requests for help, knocking on the door of the host. Not expected, not prepared for.

These are the challenges we are faced with, not only as a country, but at a sub-regional level – the Mano River Union.

The economic  growth triangle of these nations, within the Makona River, will for the next months or years to come, not be fully exploited and utilized as attention is diverted to fighting this ‘unexpected stranger’.

But we need not give up. We should be strong and remain resolute. I attended a handing-over ceremony of medical drugs to the three most affected nations by a Chinese Pharmaceutical Group here in Beijing.

Bluntly but factually put, a Medical Professor referenced how China was faced with the severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002 and how the world almost ignored the sleeping giant at the time. For him, the MRU nations should be “strong and not give up”.

UK ebola suppliesIn Sierra Leone, the Government has demonstrated the required leadership. It has taken the lead and the president deserves commendation.

Actions have been taken that showed the will and there is now a high level of public awareness that indeed Ebola is real. Public acceptance was a major challenge when it all started.  The president, in my view, has done just what is expected from a leader.

With the help of our development partners and friendly nations like PR china, Australia, UK, USA and others, we will succeed in this fight. Thanks to them, but we need more.

The Ebola stigma is a serious challenge that could not be fought completely for months and perhaps years to come.

Survivors are being stigmatised. Non-infected people travelling from the affected nations, face similar stigma outside their country.

Ebola is a real enemy, but another enemy within is the stigma it comes with. But one thing is certain, this will soon become history.

Ebola is real, it knows no boundary. It kills, but preventable when precautionary measures are taken. Listen to what the Ministry of Health and Sanitation says for a better country, free of Ebola.

I am proud to be a Sierra Leonean – no matter the circumstances.

 

3 Comments

  1. Indeed, since the outbreak of the ebola epidemic, the narrative from what is clearly an incompetent government, starting from the president down to his praise-singing crew (diplomats) is to blame everybody else but the true culprits of this disaster that is threatening the very fabric of our society.

    Why are countries like the Gambia and others in the sub-region free from the disease?

    Simple, they acted with speed and put the necessary protections, including closing all their borders.

    But in Sierra Leone we had a health minister that was, on a daily basis, telling her compatriots that not a single case of ebola was being recorded, when people were dying in areas like Kenema and Koindu.

    And an information minister that believes that the best way to wish the ebola virus away is not to talk about it, but sweep it under the rug.

    That way, the crisis will be solved – they thought. So when you have a cabal of incompetent fools parading as ministers, you wonder why the disease remain unstoppable.

    Mr. Diplomat, spare me your opinion that the president should be commended for doing all he could to prevent the deaths of his people, because if he had only done what the Gambian leadership did, our people would not have been dying today.

    It is rather unfortunate that you should peddle this narrative around, because truth is, we are not idiots.

  2. Baimba, you guys have no conscience. I wonder how you sleep at night with all the deaths and trauma people are forced to face because of your government’s ineptitude and thievery.

    You have no clue how other nationals view Sierra leoneans and how we are being treated like lepers just because we are from Sierra Leone.

    Your paraded world’s best have no clue what he has subjected us to. Ebola is not a respecter of persons – rich, poor, illiterate, or otherwise.

    Be rest assured that the Ebola rain will fall on each of your doorsteps, especially Obai’s and his gang of Bombali thieves as the people continue to suffer.

  3. Baimba, why blame the outside world when your very man in charge at slater terrace didn’t have a clue about adequate reponse.

    We failed from the word go and we continue to fail. Had we comprehensively utilised our meagre resources, things could have been different.

    But like the wah, the ebola was initially treated as a ‘mende man’ wahala.

    Why no immediate treatment and quarantine centres in all district headquarters as a first step?

    Why not go on the education campaign immediately? Be honest to tell the world and china that our response as a nation was simply appalling, hence we often see things through the tribal tinted spectacles. khetamia

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