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.