The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 18 September 2014
All six million people in the West African state of Sierra Leone are tonight ordered by command of president Koroma to remain behind closed doors, for three long nights and days, after six months of agony, fear and uncertainty over a deadly Ebola virus that has taken the lives of over 500 people.
The streets of the capital Freetown was thronged with shoppers, trying to pick up last minute groceries and other essentials that will see them through the much dreaded military style lockdown.
But human rights groups are worried about the possibility of serious violations in the coming days.
And despite calls for the draconian lockdown to be cancelled, the president has gone live on national radio and television to explain the reasons for the three day grounding of all citizens.
Whilst the economic costs of this action by the government will be easily calculated next week, what is not certain, are the physical and mental consequences of keeping six million people behind closed doors, for such a long period of time.
On average, every household in Sierra Leone is expected to consist of a family of five people, living in very cramped and overcrowded conditions.
Electricity and water are expected to be in exceptionally short supply, as utility workers operating those vital services are also staying behind closed doors.
No one knows what life is going to be like for a family of five people, sharing a bedroom and a small living room.
The health consequences of people locked up for three days, alongside uncollected garbage and other forms of human waste, are expected to be high.
Over 80% of Sierra Leoneans will not have the means to preserve fresh groceries and cooked foods, for more than eight hours.
Households running out of supplies of essential items, especially drinking water, will be forced to take leave of absence from the lockdown, in search of fresh supplies.
The role of the police and the military in supervising the door to door visits by health and volunteer community workers is unclear, despite huge expectations of families and individuals reacting violently, or uncooperative to strange men and women in uniforms entering their homes.
Will those individuals refusing to cooperate for whatever reasons, be arrested or forcefully removed from their homes?
According to yesterday’s statement from State House, the government has subcontracted the supervision and management of the lockdown to the Chinese, Cubans and Russians, effectively shutting out those Western health agencies that up to now, have been providing life- saving care across the country.
The expectation, prior to the government’s announcement yesterday, was that the WHO will be supervising the lockdown, so as to guarantee and assure everyone that international standards will be maintained throughout the three days.
Health agencies such as MSF, the Red Cross, and the World Food Programme have seemingly been relegated to the backroom, while space is cleared to make way for the Chinese, Russians and Cubans.
No one can criticise those three nations for helping the people of Sierra Leone combat this deadly virus. But the shoddy manner with which key Western health agencies have been maligned, has not gone unnoticed.
Will the Chinese, Cubans and Russians be using this three day lockdown, as an opportunity to carry out secretive and unsafe drug trials in this cut throat global race towards developing a vaccine?
The people of Sierra Leone may be desperate for anyone to help get rid of Ebola, and hence have consented to staying indoors for the next three days by command of the president. But certainly, they have not consented to participating in drug trials.
This evening, president Koroma told the six million people of Sierra Leone that the aim of the three day lockdown is to sensitise the population about the risks of Ebola and how to prevent the virus.
“These are extraordinary times, requiring extraordinary measures,” said the president.
Over 7000 health and community workers will knock on doors to provide counselling to households.
Tonight most Sierra Leoneans will go to bed, if at all, with a heavy heart, amid widespread fear of an uncertain future.
Will the lockdown help eradicate Ebola from Sierra Leone, or will it put further pressure on an already fragile and chaotic health system?