President Koroma announces new Ebola lockdown

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 September 2014

Ebola - streets of FreetownThe people of Sierra Leone have tonight been informed by the president that, following the continuing exponential rise in the number of people contracting the Ebola virus, further measures will now be taken to isolate large swathes of communities across the country.

“Port Loko, Bombali, and Moyamba districts are isolated with immediate effect. It should also be noted that Kenema and Kailahun remain isolated. Marampa, Buya Romende, Maforki, Koya, Masimera and BKM Chiefdoms in the Port Loko District, Bombali Shebora, Makarie Gbanti, Gbendembu Gowahun, Mpaki Masabong in the Bombali District, and Fakunya, Lower Banta and Bumpeh Chiefdoms in the Moyamba District are isolated, and residents in these chiefdoms must not travel to any other chiefdom until further notice,” said president Koroma.

Tonight’s  broadcast by the president, does not come as a surprise. After last week’s three day nationwide lockdown, which has been hailed by the government as a success, it is seen as essential that these strict quarantine measures are reinforced, so as to speed up efforts in catching up with the rapid pace of new infections, if not to stem Ebola on its tracks.

The latest Ebola update released by the ministry of health today, makes for a rather grim reading. According to the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), there are now almost 2,000 cumulative confirmed Ebola cases in Sierra Leone, with over 580 deaths, of which the government says 519 are confirmed Ebola victims.

Ebola sierra leone2But what makes today’s figure even more poignant is that, more than 80% of the reported new cases recorded in the last week, have all come from the north of the country, especially Port Loko, Tonkolili and Bombali districts.

In the last few weeks, there has been a fast growing and alarming shift of the Ebola epicentre, from the east and south of the country, towards the north and west.

Health experts believe that it is this cross-regional contamination, that is causing the exponentially rapid spread of the virus across the country.

Yesterday, scientists at the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the USA, visited president Koroma at State House to discuss this worrying trend.

And the CDC has warned that, if further and more concerted measures are not put in place to stem the virus, more that 500,000 people will die by January next year.

President Koroma - June 2014President Koroma has responded.

And this is what he said, speaking to the nation this evening:

“From Friday September 19 to Sunday September 21, 2014, we all answered to the call to stay at home for the Ebola Ose to Ose Campaign.

“Thousands of Sierra Leoneans volunteered to pass on the messages, to coordinate activities, and provide logistics.

“Thousands of health workers, from doctors to nurses, lab technicians, hygienists, burial teams and others showed great commitment during the campaign.

“Hundreds of journalists throughout the country, coordinated by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists and IRN worked resolutely to get the messages to the communities throughout the land.

“We laud paramount chiefs, religious and community leaders, motor drivers and bike riders, musicians for adding their energy and goodwill to the effort. We also salute the security forces for committing their efforts, authority and goodwill to the national call.

“It was indeed an impressive effort, and in organizing and implementing it, Sierra Leoneans once again demonstrated their collective ability to rise up to the occasion.

Freetown falling apart - ebola lockdown“The three days Ose to Ose Campaign achieved its objectives. Nearly all households in the country got messages on Ebola.

“Those who could not be visited by volunteers got information from the radio, and the stay at home itself, with empty streets everywhere concentrated the minds of our people on the reality of Ebola and what everyone should do to kick Ebola out of the country.

“The Campaign also convinced many people to get out the sick amongst them, and to report on suspected deaths in their households and communities. The country rose up to the occasion.

“Before and during the campaign, government and development partners increased the country’s capacity to meet the challenges posed by Ebola. But the campaign also highlighted areas of greater challenges.

“We are committed to strengthening our capacities to meet these challenges, including improving response times, building more treatment and holding centres, and strengthening the neighbourhood watch mechanisms that the campaign had initiated.

Ebola lockdown day2“To sustain our efforts in overcoming the challenges that were further revealed during the Ose to Ose Campaign, and in consultation with our partners, in line with our people’s avowed commitment to support extra measures to end the Ebola outbreak, and pursuant to the Public Emergency Regulations 2014, Government has decided to institute these further measures:

“Port Loko, Bombali, and Moyamba districts are isolated with immediate effect. It should also be noted that Kenema and Kailahun remain isolated.

“Marampa, Buya Romende, Maforki, Koya, Masimera and BKM Chiefdoms in the Port Loko District, Bombali Shebora, Makarie Gbanti, Gbendembu Gowahun, Mpaki Masabong in the Bombali District, and Fakunya, Lower Banta and Bumpeh Chiefdoms in the Moyamba District are isolated, and residents in these chiefdoms must not travel to any other chiefdom until further notice.

“Corridors for travel to and from non-quarantined districts are hereby established, but vehicles and travellers must not alight within the quarantined districts, and must only travel along the corridors between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm.

“In the Western Area, Pujehun, Tonkolili and Kambia Districts, names of Hot Spots to be quarantined will be announced in the Government Notice following this Statement.

“The ministries of Health, Education, Youth and Local Government are to activate the involvement of paramount chiefs, youths, and teachers within the affected districts in contact tracing and surveillance activities.

“The National Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) will ensure the reconfiguration and appointment of coordinators for every district EOC to facilitate effective decision making and implementation of action points at the district level.

“The Ministry of Health and Sanitation and the EOC will establish additional holding centres in the quarantined chiefdoms.

Ebola lockdown2“The isolation of districts and chiefdoms will definitely pose great difficulties for our people in those districts. But the life of everyone and the survival of our country take precedence over these difficulties.

“Government and our development partners will continue to improve support to quarantined citizens to ease these difficulties.

“These are trying moments for everyone in the country, but we are a resilient people, a people that have shown their ability to unite and stand up as one to overcome difficulties.

“We showed this in our determination to achieve peace, to restore democracy, and more recently to undertake a three-day national Ose to Ose Campaign.

“This has never been tried before in any other country in the world, and that we went through it peacefully and resolutely is a testament to the better values of our national character.

“We will use these strengths to confront those tendencies that undermine the fight against the disease. We will utilize our better calling to end this outbreak, and by the grace of God Almighty, we shall overcome and free our land from this evil virus.”

Those listening to the president’s speech have been left in no uncertain terms, with a deep sense of urgency and resolve to come together as a nation to tackle this deadly virus.

But the lessons of last week’s three day lockdown must be learned. And the government must also ensure that the fears and anxieties of citizens across the country be assuaged, so as to prevent further erosion of confidence in the efforts to stop the spread of the virus.

Tonight, as several communities in Sierra Leone enter another phase of Ebola lockdown, though geographically selective this time,  what continues to worry most people is the impact this is having on the economy, levels of poverty and the psyche of the nation in general.

After Ebola, the economy can be fixed. But will the social stigma and psychological trauma experienced by those losing their families, friends and loved ones, be repaired anytime soon?

That is a debate for another day – a day when Ebola is declared over in Sierra Leone.

For now, stopping the virus is the president’s mission, and the people’s dream.

Will the UN and the international community, now step up their support and collective resolve to wipe out Ebola from West Africa, or will they simply pay lip service and watch 1.4 million people die by April next year?

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