James Samba: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 18 June 2020:
For many around the world, COVID-19 is a first experience of a pandemic. For the people of Sierra Leone, there is spectral familiarity to what is unfolding in the country.
With the outbreak of Ebola in May 2014, about 4000 people lost their lives to the deadly virus. The effect was far-reaching. The economy was battered and shattered. Surely, the Ebola outbreak had its semblance of a fighting arena and now comes COVID-19.
For the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, there was massive collaboration and coordination of financial and technical support from developed nations, international organizations and non-governmental organizations to collectively combat the corona virus in West Africa. On the other hand, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen limited support from these bodies because they themselves are barely grappling to contain the deadly virus in their regions and right across the world.
Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation reported the country’s first case of the novel corona virus on the 30th March 2020. As of June 2020, Sierra Leone has recorded over a thousand cumulative confirmed cases of the COVID-19 and just over fifty cumulative confirmed deaths. The country underwent two successive lockdowns for a 3-day period each, first in early April then in early May, and restrictions remain solid.
This could have been far worse, if the Bio-led government had not imposed tough restrictions before the COVID19 hit Sierra Leone, particularly the restrictions on overseas travel, on public gatherings exceeding 100 persons, the closure of educational institutions and also a state of public health emergency for a period of 12 months.
Some of these restrictions, despite the criticisms, proved effective, as Sierra Leone became one of the last nations in the world to record its first confirmed case. This was expected given that the virus was present everywhere in West Africa; especially our neighbors— Guinea and Liberia.
Yet, it was jolting! Nonetheless, in a country, whose health infrastructure has limited Intensive Care Unit capacity, very few ventilators including a majority of people whose incomes and lives are direly affected by the strict social distancing measures seen in other countries would always struggle with such novelty.
That is why the Bio-led government stressed on effective preparation with proactive measures well before the COVID-19 struck Sierra Leone. President Bio activated the Public Health Emergency Operations Centre focusing primarily on strengthening surveillance at official points of entry, improving case management, and conducting effective campaigns at the national and sub-national and community levels. The government also developed the Quick Action Economic Response Plan (QAERP) to mitigate the economic and social impacts of the pandemic.
The QAERP was designed to enhance the economic impact of the restrictive measures on households of the most vulnerable population and succeed in the health, economic and social fight against the COVID-19 outbreak, in order to return to the growth path needed in ensuring the delivery of our Medium-Term National Development Plan and His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio’s priority of Human Capital Development.
“My government rapidly activated all Emergency Operations Centre pillars across the country and instituted International best practices in contact tracing and surveillance. We are determined to prevent the incidence and spread of the virus”, said President Bio. “Our Quick Action Economic Recovery Plan has ensured the provision of essential commodities and support for SME’s and vulnerable populations”.
Even though the global response to the corona virus is different to the Ebola, many of the response strategies from International Organizations and Non-governmental Organizations have been quite commendable in Sierra Leone due to the confidence our development partners have reposed in President Julius Maada Bio and his administration. This was evident in a meeting with development partners held at the State Lodge. There have been numerous pledges and donations already to complement the government’s fight against the corona virus pandemic.
The Ministry of Planning and Economic Development (MoPED), under the leadership of the dynamic Minister, Dr. Francis Kai-Kai and his colleague, the Minister of Finance (MOF), Jacob Jusu Saffa have been pivotal in coordinating external resources towards the COVID-19 fight, especially from development partners including Non-governmental Organizations. The MoPED has continuously recognized the NGO community as critical actors in the actualization of President Bio’s agenda in particular and Sierra Leone’s development in general.
With such recognition and confidence, the NGOs (International and National) put together over 274 Billion Leones’ COVID-19 Response package to complement the efforts of the government, in the fight against the COVID-19. This is a novel act of solidarity and partnership by non-state actors in which government has created a space for marshalling the development aspirations of Sierra Leone.
The package includes support to health, personal safety, social mobilization, surveillance, training of health care workers and the promotion of livelihood support in all 16 districts of Sierra Leone.
“Most of the funds have been secured already from existing grants that are repurposed and efforts are continuing to mobilize additional resources from their headquarters and donor countries”, said Eric Massallay, the National NGO Coordinator, MoPED.
During the formal presentation of the response package, the Minister thanked and assured the NGO community of President Bio’s commitment to recognizing them as worthy partners in delivering basic social services to the people of Sierra Leone, which is integral to development thinking. This partnership will demonstrate the long-term commitment required to effectively mobilize the community and identify low-cost solutions to Sierra Leone’s development problems.
“Government recognizes the invaluable role that NGOs play in promoting national development, and believes that both parties must work closely to ensure mutual trust, confidence and transparency within a strengthened partnership framework”, said Minister Kai-Kai, “we remain committed to providing the enabling environment for NGOs to operate and contribute to national development in a free, responsive, transparent and accountable manner”.
The policy oversight that MoPED provides to the operations of NGO activities ensures that they are effectively coordinated and monitored to increase performance, as clearly recommended in the Development Cooperation Framework (DCF). This new framework outlines the broad principles including ownership, alignment, the use of country systems and mutual accountability, among others, for development cooperation. It reaffirms government’s commitment to ownership and leadership of the country’s development process.
The DCF is simply, a positive new cooperation framework that encourages a broader spectrum of development partnerships between the government and all development cooperation partners contributing to Sierra Leone’s development efforts.
In several ways, NGO’s have always been a value addition to Sierra Leone’s development process. Particularly, with their efforts before, during and after the 11-years’ civil war, they are popular for getting to the last mile and filling critical development gaps in the process, and the Sierra Leone Association of Non-governmental Organizations (SLANGO) has been a key player in ensuring they perform their roles.
The global humanitarian community must be at the forefront to the rapidly escalating humanitarian needs around the globe— in Sierra Leone, the President continues to demonstrate leadership in its entirety, especially with government’s proactive response during this difficult period.
Moreover, as with any crisis, there is opportunity and the opportunity here to design and develop new solutions, through technology, which is high on the agenda of President Bio. This could help to find new and better ways to tackle global challenges together. This has never been more needed than now.
Responding to the COVID-19 in Sierra Leone requires collective cooperation among government, development partners and non-governmental organizations. After the presentation of the NGO (international and local) response package, the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development (MoPED) and SLANGO completed a 10-day nationwide tour of all 16 districts, as directed by H.E President Julius Maada Bio. The tour started on 28th May and ended on 6th June 2020. MoPED and SLANGO introduced the NGO District Leads that would help the District COVID-19 Emergency Response structures to coordinate the work and Information around the fight against the pandemic.
On the first day of this engagement, the Team led by the Minister, Dr. Francis Kai-Kai, (Photo) at the National COVID-19 Emergency Response Centre (NACOVERC) in Freetown, presented Save the Children, Concern Worldwide, Catholic Relief Services (CRS, International) and SLANGO as the NGO Response Leads for the Western Area Urban and Rural respectively.
The Minister, in his address, re-echoed President Bio’s commitment to improving the COVID-19 response through collaboration with the NGO community. He said the NGO’s were particularly willing, capable and ready to join government’s efforts working with the national and district response structures across the country.
“As a Ministry, we will do an immediate follow-up to this introduction by presenting the district NGO Lead Representatives to the respective District COVID-19 Emergency Response Centre (DICOVERC) around the country”, said Dr. Kai-Kai “This process will minimize duplication of efforts and ensure limited resources are effectively utilized to achieve maximum impact together”.
Sheku A.F. Bangura, Deputy Interim National COVID-19 Coordinator said the support was a valuable addition towards supporting government’s efforts and it will go a long way in complementing the country’s COVID-19 response strategy. He said President Bio insisted that the National COVID-19 Response architecture be replicated, at district level.
The MoPED Team together with SLANGO, led by the Deputy Minister of Planning and Economic Development, Dr. Robert Chakanda proceeded to Port Loko and Kambia Districts to continue the engagements. At the Port Loko DICOVERC, the introduction of the NGO Leads (Care, International and Sierra Leone Social and Volunteer Service was witnessed by the Hon. Vice President, Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, who had a similar COVID-19 meeting with stakeholders and the NGO partners assuring them of government’s determination to end the COVID-19. A background information on the rationale of the visit was done by Eric Massally, National NGO Coordinator.
In his presentation, opined that for better coordination, effective service delivery and to minimize duplication, there is need to identify the support from NGO’s and identify focal persons that would liaise between government structures at District level and mobilize the resources from NGO’s to complement government efforts. According to him, the NGO leads would also ensure effective communication flow between NGO’s and from district to national pillars.
In Kambia, Deputy Minister of Planning and Economic Development expressed similar sentiments, noting that the role played by NGO’s before, during and after the war was a manifestation of their commitment to support the country’s development trajectory, as he introduced Trocaire (International) and KADDRO (National) as the Leads working with the Kambia DICOVERC.
In Bombali and Karene Districts, the National Coordinator, SLANGO, Shellac Davies recognized the importance of NGO’s in supporting government in this fight. She emphasized on the space created for NGO’s to be part of the country’s development process, encouraging them to be more vigilant in order to ultimately help minimize duplication of efforts, assist in improving the overall communication and ensure limited resources are effectively utilized to achieve maximum impact together. The NGO’s— GOAL International and Mankind’s Activities for Development and Accreditation Movement (local) were selected to support the Bombali DICOVERC Team and Action for Advocacy and Development (national) was selected to support the Karene DICOVERC Team.
For Falaba and Koinadugu Districts, the NGO Leads are CRS, GOAL and Christian Extension Services respectively. During the engagement, the team continued to emphasize on the need for effective coordination and collaboration in the fight against the COVID-19 in their districts.
Falaba District, one of the newly created districts has seen an immediate and significant reduction in NGO presence since its separation from Koinadugu— the reality is mainly due to the roughness of its territory and the de-amalgamation process that the previous government initiated. So, one would always ask: Was it really a necessity? This question would completely open a new debate. Simply put, Falaba lacks everything.
At the Ernest Bai Koroma University in Tonkolili, the District COVID-19 Response Coordinator, Alusine Sesay expressed hope and determination in tackling the COVID-19 fight in the district. He thanked MoPED and SLANGO for leading the process and called for a more collaborative approach to responding to the pandemic. The NGO Lead selected to work with the Tonkolili DICOVERC are Concern Worldwide and Family Homes Movement.
In the Eastern Region, the NGO Leads for Kailahun DICOVERC—Save the Children (International) and One Village Partners (national) have spent years working in the district, supporting livelihood and social services. Addressing the MoPED Team, the DICOVERC Coordinator, Morie Feika said even though the challenges were many, the district is on the right track in complementing the government’s efforts in fighting the pandemic.
The Kono DICOVERC Team expressed similar sentiments, working with the International Rescue Committee (IRC, International) and the Network Movement for Justice and Development (national) as the NGO Leads. Presenting the Leads, the DMOPED, Dr. Robert Chakanda, also an indigene of Kono District, emphasized on the need for both teams to properly coordinate the work on information and trust around the COVID-19 preparedness and Response.
“We need to do all it takes, working closely together to fight this virus. The President Bio-led government is determined to address the challenges and we will pass on all of the challenges highlighted to the leadership of the NACOVERC and expect them to be addressed soonest”, said Dr. Chakanda.
The Team travelled to Kenema next where the NGO Leads are Welthungerhilfe (WHH, International) and Youth in Action for Development (Local). In the evening, after the Kailahun engagement, Minister Kai-Kai met with the team to debrief and discuss the strategy for the next districts.
In the Southern Region, the minister and team traveled to Pujehun District, his hometown; where he met a highly spirited, young and dynamic team led by Mohamed Kpana Gbato Kemokai. Mr. Kemokai, welcomed the Team and assured them of the district’s readiness in the fight. He acknowledged the district stakeholders for their continued support in the fight against COVID-19, which according to him, has been a critical step in containing the spread of the virus. This was followed by a situation report of Pujehun District.
Addressing a well-organized and socially distanced audience, the Minister, Dr. Francis Kai-Kai noted the importance of collaboration among the key players in the district, stating that it would yield good dividend in the COVID-19 fight. He introduced Save the Children (International) and Fambul Initiative Network (national) as the NGO Leads to the Pujehun DICOVERC Team.
In Bo, the District Council Chairman, Joseph Munda Gbinde expressed hope on such a new collaborative structure, noting that this was the very first time government has initiated such collaboration with NGO’s in fighting a disease. He said that such strategic leadership would create the necessary impact and minimize the gaps and overlaps in responding to public health emergencies. Action AID and CARITAS Bo were introduced as the District NGO Leads.
The Bonthe DICOVERC Team, led by Joseph Kamara has managed to contain the virus, after a spike in cases on a single day, weeks ago. Since then the DICOVERC Team together with NGO’s operating in the District have collaborated well to contain further spread of the virus in the Bonthe District.
“It was no longer just a cold. I ached all over, my head thumped, my eyes were burning, my throat was constricted and I had a ‘hacking cough’. This was a strange nightmare for me”, said Paramount Chief, Alieu Badara Sheriff II, as he explained his ordeal, as a survivor in a meeting held to introduce the NGO Leads. P.C. Sheriff II said he only knew he had the virus after being taken to the hospital. He called on Sierra Leonean’s to take the virus seriously and take safety precautions, while adhering to government restrictions.
With very limited facilities including healthcare, road networks and an archaic drawbridge over the River Jong, linking Bonthe and Moyamba District only speaks to the neglect these parts of the country have seen over the last decade. Amidst all of these challenges, the DICOVERC Team continues to do a great job in the COVID-19 fight.
Leading the Team, the Minister introduced World Vision International and SEND-SL (national) to the Bonthe DICOVERC Team. In Moyamba, where the district rollout ended, the Action against Hunger (International) and Children of the Nation (national) are the NGO Leads for the Moyamba DICOVERC TEAM.
About the author
James Samba (Photo) is a Mass Communication graduate from Fourah Bay College. He is the Technical Assistant to the Minister of Planning and Economic Development, NAO Building, Tower Hill, Freetown.