Is the Ebola lockdown succeeding?

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 20 September 2014

Ebola lockdown2Latest reports from Freetown on the progress of the three day military style lockdown in Sierra Leone, are expressing mixed feelings about its benefits and achievements, after just two days. (Photo: Suspected Ebola victim found on first day of lockdown).

Although there are no reports of serious and widespread rights violations, as previously feared, several communities across the country however, are complaining of people running short of food supplies, no access to water, and a worsening electricity crisis.

Those responsible for carrying out door to door surveillance, monitoring and sensitisation are said to be coping well, after yesterday’s serious setback in making available the necessary logistics and material supplies, before they could go out.

There are serious complaints over the lack of temperature testing kits for use during the door to door campaign, to check for suspected Ebola cases.

Speaking to the Sierra Leone Telegraph, an official said: “The distribution of logistics to the teams at the DHMT Cline Town is not properly organised. They are only being given their logistics now when that should have been done yesterday, and this is slowing the campaign.”

There are reports that households are refusing to accept the antiseptic soap that the government is offering for use throughout the lockdown. “People believe that the soap contains the Ebola virus. Not even my driver will accept the soap, despite my advice to the contrary”, an eyewitness told the Sierra Leone Telegraph yesterday.

Ebola - streets of FreetownThe streets of the capital continues to be eerily quiet, as households mark the second day of the lockdown and wait in anticipation behind closed doors, for the Green light to go about their daily business on Monday.

But in some neighbourhoods, suspected Ebola victims were removed from their homes, as the scenes were being watched by neighbours and a few passersby, brave enough to disobey the president’s lockdown order.

Ebola lockdown day2What human rights campaigners are afraid of, is that suspected Ebola victims being snuffed out of their homes, may not initially be Ebola positive, but may contract the virus through contamination at treatment centres where they are being taken.

Because of this fear, many people are said to be refusing to open their doors to the visiting Ebola contact tracers.

It is reported that a pregnant woman who was in labour, lost her life as there was no transportation to take her to the maternity hospital, where she could have delivered her baby safely.

Youths in the far west of Freetown refused to take part in the door to door monitoring, following government’s officials refusal to pay them the agreed rate of pay. They have declined the government’s offer of Le20,000 – an equivalent of £3, to carry out the door to door campaign.

In various parts of the city, there are reports that District Health Management Teams are illegally using family members and friends to take part in the lockdown campaign, instead of the trained community volunteers with whom government has a contract.

Responding to this development, the ministry of health said that:  “The Incident Management Committee of the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) have received information that some volunteers who were trained for the three days stay at home “Ose to Ose Ebola Tok”, were replaced by family members and friends of the District Health Management Team (DHMT) staff in the Western Area. The EOC is encouraging volunteers who have been victims of such to report to the EOC for appropriate action.”

But what came as a surprise from State House, on the eve of the lockdown, was the announcement of what resembles a cross-party governance structure, appointed to oversee the implementation of the lockdown campaign.

In his statement published on the 18th September, president Koroma appointed groups of ruling party and opposition politicians with responsibility for each of the 13 districts. The statement reads:

“The general public is hereby informed that during the three-day “ose-to-ose ebola tok” campaign, which will take place from 19th to 21st September 2014, the following persons have volunteered to provide overall supervision and monitoring of activities within the various districts:”

Maada Bio -2014Koinadugu district – Mr. Peter Bayuku Conteh, and Mr. Momoh Konte; Tonkolili district – Abdulai B.D. Sesay, and  Aaroun A Koroma;  Port Loko district – Kemoh Sesay, Frank Kargbo (Lunsar), Ibrahim Bundu, and  Alpha Kanu (Lungi axis);  Bombali district – I. B. Kargbo,  Palo Conteh;  Kambia district –     Alfred Kamara, Somano Kapen, and Dauda Kamara;  Kono district – Karamoh Kabba, Balogun Koroma, and Richard Koninga; Kailahun district – John O. Benjamin, Alex Bonafa, Augustine Nyuma Kortu; Kenema district – Augustine Sannoh,  Bernadette Lahai, and  Foday Sawi;  Western Area –  Momodu A. Pat Sowe,  Alhaji Minkailu Mansaray,  Mohamed Bangura; Western rural – Charles Margai;  Bo district – Maada Bio (Photo), Moijue Kaikai, Randolph Foday Bayoh, and Sahr K. Foryoh;  Bonthe district – Momodu Maligi, and Sylvester Goba;  Moyamba district – Foday Gulama, Musa Tarawally; Pujehun district – Charles Rogers, Harry Caulker, and Ansu Kaikai.

But what has sparked a serious debate and a lot of confusion for residents of those districts, is the fact that the government has dished out over Le60 million to each Member of Parliament to sensitise their respective constituencies, before, during and after the three day lockdown.

So what are the terms of reference of this new political Ebola governance structure, established by president Koroma on Thursday, in addition to the now redundant and dysfunctional Presidential Ebola Task Force? No one seems to know.

According to UNICEF, during the lockdown, more than 28,500 social mobilizers, youths and volunteers in teams of four, are going door-to-door to reach 1.5 million households to share information on ways families can protect themselves against the Ebola virus disease and prevent its spread.

Each group UNICEF says, consists of a health worker, a community volunteer, a youth leader and a teacher, who are knocking on every door to dispel rumours and misconceptions about the Ebola virus disease and promote good practices, such as hand-washing with soap, among other interventions. And each household reached is receiving information, education and communication materials on Ebola prevention and a bar of soap for hand washing.

Ebola treatment centre at Hastings1The police training centre at Hastings has been refurbished to accommodate a new Ebola treatment unit, managed and run by the chinese (Photo).

The ministry of health issued a statement on the eve of the lockdown announcing that: “The Red Cross Ebola Treatment Centre in Kenema is now functional and has started admitting Ebola Confirmed Cases. The Lakka Holding Centre in the Western Area has also started operations today.”

But there are fears that dozens of newly discharged Ebola survivors have no where to go, nor food to eat. They cannot go back to their communities for fear of the social stigma. And so, they continue to remain on the wards, despite being declared Ebola free.

“The Police are advised that all fuel station workers in their uniforms and Security Personnel of MoHS should be allowed to their various work stations once they provide their respective ID Cards.

“Fuel stations across the country are encouraged by the EOC to continue their normal operations during this three days exercise, but staff working at these stations are advised to be in their uniforms at all times while on duty.

“SLRTC Buses will be available on different routes in the Western Area and districts to transport health and other essential workers with passes and valid work ID cards or uniforms during the three day stay at home.

“Health workers are particularly advised to look for and board these SLRTC buses on routes within their neighbourhoods, so that they can be taken to work.  Bus services will also be available for ticket holding passengers travelling to and from Lungi International Airport.

“Passes have also been issued to essential workers, groups and EOC team members who will be participating in the three day stay at home exercise. These essential workers and team members are advised to carry their passes with them at all time to avoid embarrassment.”

iron ore production in sierra leoneMining companies have been granted special dispensation to continue their operations.

But financial analysts say that hundreds of millions of dollars have been wiped off the share values of mining companies at the stock exchange in London, since the announcement of the three day lockdown.

The true costs and benefits of the lockdown campaign will be known next week, once the doors of six million people are once again opened, and businesses resume their normal business.

Tomorrow, millions of Christians across the country will be praying at home, as did their Muslim brothers and sisters last Friday, unable to attend their houses of worship.

They will be praying for strength of faith, and above all, for the discovery of a vaccine, without which, it seems the defeat of Ebola is now looking almost impossible. Until then, health agencies will continue to put sticky plasters unto Ebola.

1 Comment

  1. Ostensibly, the three-day lockdown was for house-to-house sensitisation by the volunteers. But in reality, it was to fish out dead bodies and suspected Ebola cases.

    The less said about the so called “antiseptic soap” the better. The soap was actually a cheap LAUNDRY soap (popularly called 72%) used locally to launder clothes and wash dirty dishes.

    A joke currently doing the rounds here in Freetown is that the 3-day (72 hrs) lockdown to distribute the 72% soap, equals a tiny 1% ebola effectiveness for every one hour!

    On a more serious note, giving households laundry soap for handwashing was insensitive.

    Sierra Leoneans are a proud people with a rich heritage. They use laundry soap at home to wash their laundry and dirty dishes, and bath soap for their hands and bodies!

    Of course, yours truly rejected the laundry soap and did not avail myself of the sensitisation, since that was not the real intention for the lockdown. There has been massive financial donations from local and international sources pouring into Government coffers for the Ebola campaign. S0 why didn’t the Government do the decent thing to procure simple bath soap for distribution?

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