Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 October 2014
Last Friday’s Ebola restructuring news from State House coincided with depressing reports from Waterloo in the east of the capital Freetown: “Dead bodies are lying all over the place unburied, with the death rate now averaging twenty a day and hundreds of sick people locked up in their homes without medical care.
“The burial teams are overwhelmed and overworked. The deaths go as far afield as Newton and Tombo – with reports of mass deaths daily. The stench of dead bodies covers most places now in and around waterloo.”
Also today, 19th October, there were reports of “local youths in Portee in the eastern district of Freetown, blockading the main Portee junction with tyres, stones and sticks on the grounds that two corpses have been abandoned in their community, despite several requests to have them removed by the authorities.”
In the wake of the sacking of the health minister – Miatta Kargbo last August, the Sierra Leone Telegraph commented: “Whilst the sacking of the health minister is to be welcomed, it is obvious now that the lack of leadership is just the tip of the iceberg.
“The restructuring of the Ebola Emergency Operation Centre in Freetown and the expansion of the Ebola ministerial committee will do very little in solving the complex organisational and multi-faceted issues that are emerging, across every district in the country. Something fundamental has to change.”
Is another lockdown on the horizon in Sierra Leone?
And even prior to the sacking of the health minister, which incidentally has made no impact on the management of the Ebola crisis, the Sierra Leone Telegraph had been very wary about the government’s approach, especially the constant obsession with money as the panacea for eradicating Ebola, rather than making far more fundamental and sustainable constitutional changes to the way the country is being governed.
On the 27 August 2014, the Sierra Leone Telegraph said: “As millions of dollars keep pouring into State House in Freetown, it is becoming more apparent that money may not necessarily solve the Ebola crisis, in an ever increasingly chaotic and uncoordinated environment.
“There is serious confusion as to the powers, roles and functions of the plethora of agencies and bodies, who continue to get in each other’s way, as they struggle to tackle the common enemy – Ebola.
“The presidential Ebola Task Force established a month ago by president Koroma does not have clear terms of reference. Yet there is the false impression that it is responsible for setting out and coordinating the practical actions, measures and rules of engagement for all the Ebola agencies – including the ministry of health.
“The international community have established what is known as the Ebola Emergency Operations Centre, with representatives drawn from the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), Public Health England, MSF and DFID.
“Other international agencies ploughing the crowded deadly Ebola field include: the International Medical Corp (IMC), the International Red Cross, the World Food Programme, Action Aid and many others.
“But the latest report of the ministry of health on the spread of the virus, paints a very grim reality on the ground, suggesting that despite the presence of almost every international health and humanitarian agency in Sierra Leone, Ebola is far from being kept under controlled.
“There are serious questions as to where leadership, authority, control and direction lie, in this chaotic fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone.”
Is the Presidential Ebola Task Force in charge? Is the Ebola Emergency Operations Centre in charge? Is MSF in charge? Is WHO in charge? Is the UN in charge?
After last Friday’ s reorganisation by the president, it is not clear as to who is in charge of the overall coordination and direction of the Ebola war in Sierra Leone.
Is the UN office in Freetown going to grab the Ebola crisis by the scruff of the neck and provide the necessary coordination and direction, or will it also continue to sit on its hands while waiting for more funding to arrive?
In July 2014, 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, which at that time had infected about 500 people.
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”.
Critics said then that this over ambitious pledge by the president will one day come to haunt him.
Three months on, and with latest update on Ebola from the ministry of health, it is clear the president’s 60-90 days end of Ebola pronouncement has seriously come to haunt the president.
On the 16th October – three days ago, there were 3,451 cumulative confirmed, suspected and probable cases – compared to 500 in July; total cumulative confirmed, suspected and probable deaths at 1,216.
Critics are now saying that the president’s blunder about the eradication of Ebola within 90 days, was part of a wider State House and APC government policy of attempting to brush Ebola under the carpet.
The constant denial by government spokesmen and ministers have no doubt contributed immensely to the lack of a coherent strategy to tackle the virus, and the exponential rise in the numbers of deaths, which has now exceeded 1,000.
Tonight there are unconfirmed reports of another nationwide lockdown being planned for November. It will last for four days and will be much more strictly enforced.
Last week the Sierra Leone Telegraph called for the capital Freetown to be divided into small manageable zones, and each zone condoned off by the military, so as to focus medical resources on households.
An anonymous source in Freetown is tonight reported to have said that: “From a military perspective, ebola is like a biological warfare attack and should be countered accordingly. There needs to be a clampdown on human movement inside Sierra Leone and possibly to and from the country between now and late 2015 when it is hoped that an antidote will have been developed.”
Today’s headline in the British Daily Mail Newspaper – ‘Ebola Lockdown’, supports this view.
The newspaper reports that: “Thousands of UK troops would be sent to Sierra Leone to enforce a military lockdown, under radical plans to defeat ebola being considered by Britain’s most senior Army officer.
It went on to say that: “General Sir Nick Carter is leading a review of the UK’s response to the virus, and could use 3,000 British soldiers to impose a blockade and restrict human movement in the African country.
“Sir Nick, the Chief of the General Staff, will advise Ministers on proposals, including an increase in troop numbers and using Royal Navy ships to patrol its coastal waters.”