Sierra Leone Telegraph: 4 April 2020:
There are now two additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Sierra Leone today, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to four. Both new cases are believed to be among those quarantined upon arrival at Lungi international airport last month.
According to BBC Umaru Fofanah – “They and others were due to be released from isolation this weekend. But with the new policy they had to be tested before their release. Health minister Dr Alpha Wurie said it meant “our quarantine policy with automatic testing is working”. He told me that all those in the Buya Hotel in Port Loko, where the one new case comes from, would have to stay in quarantine for another 14 days.
“Those who were with the second new case in a five-room chalet in Lungi, he said, would have to be isolated at home with their primary contacts because they’d already left the hotel having completed their initial quarantine period,” Umaru Fofanah said.
A local journalist in Freetown told the Sierra Leone Telegraph this morning that he is very concerned that hundreds of people who arrived in the country through the international Lungi airport, were not tested for the coronavirus, after completing their fourteen days State imposed quarantine.
“They were allowed to go to their loved ones and communities without being properly tested for the virus – apart from having their temperature checked. These people may have been asymptomatic and effectively could now be transmitting the virus across communities,” he said.
“Three weeks ago, the government had enough test kits to test all those arriving at Lungi airport at the time for the virus. But I don’t understand why they didn’t use the test kits. Now we are all very worried and waiting like sitting ducks for the country to be ravaged by the virus”.
But questions are being asked about the government’s capability and capacity to respond, should there be an outbreak of the virus across the country.
Notwithstanding accusations of lack of serious preparedness, the government is facing a daunting task, even if it wants to conduct largescale testing of all primary and secondary contacts of the currently confirmed cases. The government does not have the resources.
Lessons learnt from across the world show that even rich and powerful countries are struggling to meet their testing targets, as the world runs short of the chemical supplies and materials needed to conduct the tests.
These nations are struggling with the lack of capacity as hospital and government-run laboratories become overwhelmed by growing demand for tests.
Sierra Leone does not have sufficient number of testing laboratories to respond to a national outbreak.
Apart from the 34 Military hospital in Freetown, and possibly one or two private laboratories whose technical capabilities in testing for the coronavirus must be questioned, the country is desperately exposed to a risk greater than the Ebola virus.
Speaking at a joint press briefing about the current status of the government’s preparedness in stemming the transmission and spread of COVID-19 across the wider population, the ministers of information and health said two days ago that the first confirmed COVID-19 case alone, has an estimated 130 contacts that the government is now tracing for testing; 43 of his primary contacts have been traced, and 8 tested negative.
But if 8 of the 43 primary contacts tested negative a week ago, what about the remaining 35 primary contacts? Were they proved positive or their results inconclusive? What is their health status now?
The ministers said that 3 of his contacts have already travelled to Kenema and Kono. Have these contacts been traced and tested? What about the people that they too would have interacted with in their households and community? Have they now been isolated and tested?
Should large numbers of people start getting desperately ill from the virus, ventilators will be needed. Sierra Leone has 3 ventilators, all of which are located at the Choithram Hospital in Freetown, the ministers confirmed.
The government’s intention to buy 50 more ventilators from abroad when the whole world is experiencing huge shortage in supplies, gives little comfort. It says that 8 ventilators have already been ordered but not yet arrived. Will they ever arrive? And if so, will they arrive on time to help avert catastrophe?
Lessons learnt from the Ebola corruption scandal must be a painful reminder of what happens, when public officials who are meant to look after the interests of society become cowboys – lining their own pockets with public funds instead of spending the money on much needed medical protective wear and healthcare equipment.
As at today, Sierra Leone has less than 20,800 testing kits, which ministers say is sufficient for testing on 4,000 people – based on the questionable rationale that each person would require five tests? How reliable are these test kits? Is the government relying solely on 34 Military Hospital to conduct these test?
Why not encourage 34 Military Hospital testing specialists – who the Sierra Leone Telegraph understand are largely from China, to train and collaborate with the two privately owned laboratories in Freetown to facilitate knowledge transfer, capacity-building and improve the country’s testing capability and response?
The response of the country’s medics says it all. They are dissatisfied with the government’s preparedness and response so far, and want more to be done. Their demands are clear.
“As an association we are not happy with the measures that have been taken so far, namely testing of contacts. There is strong indication that there is already community transmission of the virus within the Sierra Leone population. In keeping with stringent measures to control the virus, we as an Association recommend that:-
– The period of Lockdown (i.e. Limiting movement of citizens) be extended to 14 (fourteen) days (based on the known disease incubation period), where all previously quarantined be located and tested and if positive their contacts traced, isolated and tested.
– Ensure that PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and N95 masks are immediately available to all health facilities for healthcare workers as the frontline against the disease.
– All 26 (twenty six) doctors and staff at Ola During Children’s Hospital are potential contacts of Case 2 and should be isolated and tested after quarantine whether symptomatic or not.
– A designated and adequate facility be made available immediately for affected frontline healthcare workers.
– To strongly consider all necessary support and compensation for frontline healthcare workers who will be risking their lives and those of their families to provide much needed service to Sierra Leone.
“We urge the Ministry of Health/Govt. Of Sierra Leone to act with extreme urgency to control the COVID-19.”
The World Bank and IMF have in the last two days announced a whopping $28 Million to help the government respond effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic. But is it all too late?
Is the virus now universally spread across various communities in the country, where symptoms are being diagnosed or mistaken for the common cold?
Whiles many would say that the $28 Million arrived too late to help strengthen and prepare the healthcare sector with much needed supplies from abroad, there is no doubt the economy is going to need a lot more than $28 million to get it resuscitated back to its feet, after COVID-19 would have long said goodbye.