Sierra Leone Telegraph: 4 January 2015
The government of Sierra Leone has announced what it refers to as “additional screening measures” at the Lungi International Airport, after two employees working at the airport are reported to have contracted the virus since December, but had since failed to return to work.
This latest case has once again prompted serious questions about the effectiveness of the government’s measures in combating the virus.
A joint news conference was held yesterday, 3rd January 2015 at the airport by the Minister of health – Dr. Abubakarr Fofanah, the head of the NERC – Major Palo Conteh, officials from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the British Military, the U.S Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and WHO.
They discussed the two reported Ebola cases, the current state of screening and security at the airport, and measures to ensure the safety of passengers and staff.
Since the start of the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone in May 2014, the country has lost millions of dollars in revenue, as tourists stayed away, following direct air travel ban by several countries, including the US and UK.
But this latest discovery at the country’s international airport will only reinforce the decision of UK authorities to restrict direct flights from Freetown, despite protests from Sierra Leone government officials, ECOWAS and the AU.
Sierra Leone’s economy has suffered a massive blow since the start of the crisis, and is currently being kept alive by the IMF, World Bank and the African Development Bank.
Following the joint press conference at the airport, officials issued a press statement, saying that: “The General Public is hereby informed that the attention of Government has been drawn to two cases of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) with possible connections to the Lungi International Airport.
“Officials were informed of a case of Ebola detected in the community and confirmed by laboratory testing on January 2, 2015. This patient had worked at the airport in mid-December, but has not worked since that time.
“One contact of the patient is also an airport employee, but has not worked since December 25, 2014. While there was no transmission risk with this patient and the contact, efforts to enhance the prevention of any future events are being implemented.
Minister of Health and Sanitation – Dr. Abubakarr Fofanah (Photo) said that; “Screening must occur around the clock by trained professionals, to detect and evaluate any suspicion of Ebola in a worker or traveller.
“Together with NERC, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Transport, State House Officials and our International Partners, the following additional measures would be put in place immediately:
- Implementation of Standard Operating Procedures for enhanced airport employee screening and health monitoring, to include documentation of employee temperatures at the airport front gate and on entry to the terminal, improving on existing Ministry of Health guidelines
- Improved monitoring of disease hotspots in the community around the airport with efforts to communicate to employees on ways to prevent infection and transmission of disease
- Additional trained screening staff to allow round the clock airport entry checks, including trained health workers to assist in evaluation of travellers and employees
- Additional Support to Ebola prevention and control work in Kaffu Bullom, including surveillance, quarantine, contact tracing and availability of dedicated ambulances to assist the airport with any suspected cases needing further evaluation at nearby healthcare facility.”
The head of the National Ebola Response Centre – Major Palo Conteh (Photo) said that: “Through collaboration among our government and international partners, we will take these additional steps for ensuring safe and secure air travel in Sierra Leone.”
Over 10,000 people are unofficially reported to have contracted the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone, killing more than 5,000.
Despite accusations of serious under-reporting, the government puts the figures at 7,542 and 2,524 respectively.