Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 April 2020:
Sierra Leone has in the last twenty-four hours recorded 5 new cases of the COVID-19 virus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 35.
But as the number of cases rises slowly, questions are being asked about the effectiveness of the government’s strategic response, which focuses on contact tracing and quarantining without the capacity to carry out any meaningful testing of large samples of the population where cases are being found.
A few weeks ago, the government reported that it had about 2,800 test kits in the country. It is not clear how many now remains in stock, as the government contemplates a much longer and tougher national lockdown, spanning 14 days, which many believe would be disastrous for millions of poor people and local businesses.
Today, there are reports of dozens of nurses in the healthcare system in the capital Freetown, Kept in appalling isolation by the government, suggesting that the government is either losing grip of the situation or simply abdicating its moral and constitutional responsibility to its citizens.
Umaru Fofanah – the BBC reporter in Freetown, says that over one hundred nurses are in quarantine without drinking water and cooked meal:
“The Secretary General of the Sierra Leone Nurses’ Association has expressed outrage at the treatment of some of their members who have been “crammed inside the Ola During Children’s Hospital” in Freetown for between one and three days suspected of carrying the coronavirus.
“Haurace Nyandemoh told me that up to 112 nurses had all been quarantined together at the facility which has now been closed to patients.
“He said two of that number had tested positive but had still not been removed from the place “with the risk of cross-infecting others”. One of those in quarantine told me that they were struggling for water “with only raw food and charcoal given to us late yesterday to cook”. Another said that they’d all had to be sharing “the same toilet and bucket”.
“The president of the association, Elizabeth Lemoh has appealed for her colleagues to be moved to “a safer location and treated humanely while further tests are being done”. Information minister Mohamed Rahman SWARRAY says the EOC was trying “to transition them to a more comfortable place today”. Meanwhile in Kenema in the east, a group of people deemed to have come into contact with the recent confirmed case have been quarantined inside a school. Some of them have also spoken to me about “very poor conditions with a shared toilet, no running water or electricity,” reports Umaru Fofanah.
The government of Sierra Leone has received tens of millions of dollars to help combat the virus, and so far, with its COVID-19 strategy now unravelling, questions must be asked about how that money is being spent by ministers and officials.
The Director of the the civil rights group in Sierra Leone – The Campaign for Human Rights and Development (CHRDI), Mr Abdul Fatoma, told the Sierra Leone Telegraph: “If we can’t keep our doctors and nurses safe, how can they – and we – fight dangerous pathogens and keep us all alive? Violations or lack of attention to human rights can have serious health consequences.
“Overt or implicit discrimination in the delivery of health services – both within the health workforce and between health workers and service users – acts as a powerful barrier to health services, and contributes to poor quality care. In order for our health workers to provide the necessary care during this outbreak and other possible emergencies, they must be equipped with the right information, resources and protection they and their patients deserve.”