Abraham John: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 16 April 2020:
Sierra Leone’s Public Health Ordinance Act of 1960 undoubtedly is on the list of obsolete laws that require wholesale review or rigorous amendment. The context in which the law was passed 60 years ago (before Sierra Leone attained Independence) is arguably not relevant in the course of the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The population of Freetown in 1960 for example was 119,000. When compared to the last census, the population of Freetown has exponentially grown to 1,202,000. These figures, if extrapolated will also indicate population growth at the national level.
It must be noted that the marking of premises of persons with identifiable diseases as provided in the 1960 Public Health Ordinance Act is entirely optional. This cannot be twisted otherwise for any cheap political gain.
Section 42 of the Act is very simple and unambiguous. It states thus: “A Health Officer may place or cause to be placed on or about any premises in which any case of notifiable disease has occurred, any mark for the purpose of denoting the occurrence of the disease and may keep such mark affixed for such time as he may deem necessary, and any person removing or obliterating the mark without authority shall be guilty of an offence…”.
The actions of COVID-19 Command Center to quarantine homes or other facilities guarded by security personnel is stringent and much progressive than Section 42 of the Public Health Ordinance Act which is limited to the marking of premises.
There is no use in marking premises if the movement of the suspected persons are not limited or monitored.
In the current circumstance, contact tracing has proved effective in tracking people who have come into contact with persons inflicted with COVID 19. The suggestion to publish the details of persons infected with Covid -19 is ill advised and has the potential to stigmatize patients and their families, even after they would have been discharged.
The pre-emptive efforts by the President Bio led government to contain the disease are commendable. It could have been worse had the president not taken proactive measures in the fight against Covid-19.
From what is unfolding, there is no evidence so far that by not disclosing the identities of the infected patients, the disease has spread exponentially.
It is important at this stage to deepen understanding and the practice of all safety protocols. The greatest challenge is protocol around social distancing in public places, including entertainment joints along the beaches.
The messaging around nasal and oral droplets from persons infected with COVID 19 and how it spreads and inhaled by people within close proximity is yet to be fully understood.
In this regard, it is suggested that social mobilization messages be properly crafted to deepen understanding of the risks in breaching social distancing protocols.