Sierra Leone may be ahead of COVID-19 but disclosure of infected is key to stop its spread

Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden (OOR): Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 April 2020:

Let me start with a direct quote from Sierra Leone’s Public Health Ordinance Act No. 23 of 1960, which is the guiding law on highly contagious diseases for which there is no known cure.

Section 42 says:  “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…”.

This means even the patient’s house can be identified and marked as such. So why are we hiding the identities of the COVID-19 patients?

Catching this virus is not a sin. It is not HIV-AIDS. So, if a Government says it is risking the greater well-being of seven million citizens in order to protect privacy rights of a few persons, then posterity will judge harshly.

Let me once again commend the Bio-led SLPP Government of Sierra Leone for the numerous proactive approaches to tackling the existential threat known as the COVID-19 coronavirus.

This country is currently ahead of the virus; and I do believe that if we (citizens and government) act even smarter, we can remain ahead of the virus for a much longer time.

However, there are things we are continuing to do wrongly, which will speed up the rate of transmission of the virus and cause it to overcome us faster.

We have to fight to slow down the rate of transmission of this virus. And the best way is through effective contact tracing.

Sierra Leone is a poor country with a rudimentary healthcare service, few trained healthcare professionals; and worse of all, inadequate number of medical facilities and equipment.

The reason why some of us supported the State Of Emergency is simply because we knew that given what is on the way, in the midst of poor healthcare sector, then certain of our constitutional rights need to be done away with.

So if we supported State of Emergency because we know the need for some of our rights to be waived at this time, we are concerned that there are misguided people speaking of assumed “medical privacy rights” to be upheld.

If we can take away basic rights of movement and stop people from moving even short distances like Freetown to Songo, what justification makes us uphold assumed privacy rights? NONE! None at all.

I saw the very hardworking chairperson of the Human Rights Commission on a video, saying we should hide identities of Covid-19 patients. That is so bad of her. I respect that lady a lot but on this, I vehemently disagree with her. Under which Law are we hiding their identities?

In point of fact, even the house in which such a patient resides or used to reside, can be clearly marked with coloured ropes and ribbons by Government.

So, if a patient’s whole house is liable to be identified as one with a COVID-19 patient, how much more the mere identity of the patient?

We need to know the identities of COVID-19 patients so we can help the authorities track their contacts faster. We need to track contacts because that’s the best way to slow this virus down. (Photo: President Bio of Sierra Leone needs to act fast).

If we miss contacts of infected patients, they will unknowingly be infected, develop only mild sickness and get better, but during which mild sickness they may now infect other people whose immune systems are not so strong.

Missing out on just one contact can potentially cause infection of over ten people who will get full blown sickness from that missed contact without ever they or the contact knowing the source of their sickness. All because our Government failed to help us all by identifying the sick patients.

Many thanks to our President for his Government’s proactive leadership so far. But this government is falling short by hiding identities and relying only on the patients memory and honesty.

Some patients may be too sick to remember all their contacts. Some may be too distressed, and some may have contacts (like prostitutes they use or extra-marital relationships) that they are ashamed of. However, identifying the patients will help those contacts to now know they are exposed and reduce the chance of them getting sick and not knowing it may be from Covid-19.

So I call on the government to please identify all COVID-19 patients, so as to better track their possible contacts.

Long live Common Sense! Long live Sierra Leone! Amen.

8 Comments

  1. Sylvia Blyden is turning us off by the silly comments she makes these days. Politics is over, its now time to put the people first. If she has nothing good to say, then be quiet. Why should the government name those affected? I can remember no names were mentioned during the ebola outbreak so why now? Please we are tired of all your ranting. I blame journalists who repeatedly call APC and SLPP members into the studio for discussions.

    What about the other parties who I believe can discuss genuienely for the peoples interest. Why not call NGC, C4C or others and leave APC out of it. I am an APC paid up member but to be honest, I am not proud to hear all the nonsense and political statements coming out of the mouth of senior members. Lets leave this government to do their bit and let us act as genuine opposition party who has the peoples interest at heart. The country is fed up with all this cry baby syndrome from my party the APC. So far, thumbs up to the government for the handling of the COVID 19 pandemic. May God help Sierra Leone!!

  2. Ms. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, I personally have no idea what you talking about. Praising and at the same time criticizing, I am afraid even your party (APC) might be getting mad at you. “We can act even smarter, so we can remain ahead of the virus for a much longer” Uh, you and who? Most of your statements are noun phrase, you fail to mention some names as you did on facebook – right? This is not the way to push this country forward, it will take it backward instead. I don’t believe that the SLPP gov’t is criminally hiding any COVID 19 patient’s identity. We are all fighting this pandemic disease as no one wants history to repeat itself, like what happened the last time (Ebola and mudslide.

    Talking about (adequacy) number of medical facilities and equipment, oh my Lord Jesus; you don’t have to say this my sister. Your party APC, former regime, ruled the country for 11 years my dear. This type of comment is unheard of. Are you saying that the SLPP Gov’t is failing to help us to identify the sick patients of COVID 19? I do respect you as one of our most intelligent, smart women in the country to utter such an advise if you think it is.

    Bio’s administration if you guys give him an opportunity as the late President Tejan Kabba did for APC, then you will see what would happen. Bio’s SLPP inherited a real mess from the former regime. You know what I’m talking about, because even you yourself criticized the corruption saga. My question is; why were you dismissed from your previous position?

    APC did all they could to steal the votes in 2018, but the voters answered them with a proper eloquent answer. May God protect this administration, long live Bio, long live Sierra Leone.

  3. This was culled from the BBC African service website and it reads: “The World Health Organization has warned that discrimination against those who test positive for coronavirus could be more dangerous than the virus itself. In South Africa, people who have the virus say they’re facing a double burden – fighting off the illness and suffering victimisation from their communities.

    The stigma associated with such an infectious virus has cut through society. A woman who tested positive for coronavirus shared her experience of discrimination with me:

    “There was a stakeholder’s meeting which was scheduled to take place but couldn’t attend because of my Covid-19 status… I sent an email excusing myself from attending the meeting… not knowing by doing that a volcano would erupt… there were hateful expressions… expressions of intolerance… a violation of my rights because my status was shared without my consent.”

    Her neighbours said they feared she would infect them. They called the police and an ambulance.

    She has a plea for South Africans:

    “People infected by Covid-19 don’t need further victimisation. Already our immune system is compromised, we don’t need stress. Stress can affect the immune system. This is the time for ubuntu… a spirit of kindness, goodness, compassion, understanding and if we can have some of that I think we’re halfway to winning this battle.”

    Experts have warned that stigma might scare people away from mass testing drives which are taking place all over South Africa.

    “One of the main challenges in our fight against the virus is if people fear stigma more than the virus. Then it means it becomes a barrier – they won’t go ahead and get tested. Even if they get tested they’ll be afraid to disclose because of fear of stigma which then creates a huge problem because testing is one of the most important things in terms of fighting this virus,” said Sibulele Qhogwana, is a clinical psychologist”, end of quote.

    This is an answer to those advocating for CoviD-19 patients names to be made know to the public.

  4. This matter is a very delicate one and govt has to be careful in its approach. Yes COVID isn’t HIV AIDS but it’s also associated with quite a bit of stigma. I’m part of the COVID team in a hospital in another African country where I work as a senior doctor; and at some point in time I noticed that some health workers (I’m talking about doctors) who were my friends would say a quick hello and hurry past unlike previously when they would stop and chat.

    A couple of other members of the team also reported being at the receiving end of remarks (from colleague doctors) which were rather stigmatising. And this is coming from health workers who are presumably more knowledgeable.

    During the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone I remember hearing that some people who were infected faced a lot of stigma when they returned to their homes from the treatment centres. People in their community refused to have anything to do with them. Those who were traders couldn’t get customers to buy their wares and it affected their livelihood etc.

    Here the identities of those infected aren’t made public. Information is only divulged about the number of cases, the region(s) the cases are coming from, whether they were imported or not and the mortality. And even with that a number of people aren’t forthcoming with their symptoms or travel/contact history.

    If the government of Sierra Leone wants to make public the identities of those infected it has to make sure people are very, very, very….. well educated about the infection, so that when those infected come out of isolation/quarantine they can easily merge into society without stigma.

    I think another thing that may help if the resources are available is passive testing where a team goes into a community where cases have been detected, and tests as many people as possible regardless of whether or not they have symptoms. This is being done here and a lot of positives are coming up – most of them asymptomatic.

    • Dr Cole, thank you for this brilliantly laid out insight. I absolutely agree with you. The possibility of those named being stigmatised far outweigh the benefits of revealing their identity. The mistake the government made was to have named the first corona case. The second case is Dr Bell who publicly self-identified.

      Dr Blyden and many believe that the fourth case is the son of Mrs Bio and thats why the government has locked down on revealing corona patient identity. Dr Blyden is challenging what she sees as government double standards. And on that, I agree with Dr Blyden. The government cannot allow the identity of one patient to be revealed and not the others.

  5. There is no possible differentiation between COVID, HIV/AIDS or any other disease when it comes to patient confidentiality! Even if the law is to be interpreted the way you did, that would just mean that the law is obsolete and needs to be updated to match international standards.

    Contact tracing is the most effective way to control the pandemic, according to the specialist and not yours or my opinion. If contacts are traced and isolated there is no benefit from disclosing identities of those infected or isolated (I dare you to provide scientific evidence that contradicts this).

    At a time when we are expressing our shock at how supposedly Africans are being treated in China I read with concern opinions like yours that have no useful benefits and may have dangerous consequences!

  6. You cannot go around disclosing the identity of those infected. There is such a thing as privacy and to add to that, many African countries have a stigma attached to those infected so there is even more reason to keep those infected totally private.

  7. Dr. Blyden, English language is noted for its peculiar spectrum of interpretation. That ambiguity has been, in my estimation, it’s most powerful linguistic asset. The word “MAY”, as you have definitely seen within S:42, is no different. It simply puts the burden of interpretation on the “health official”. I believe it is totally wrong to assign an authoritarian interpretation to a health law or edict when you have not been assigned the responsibility of interpretation!

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