The Last 3-Days in Sierra Leone

The 3-day lockdown which was declared by President Ernest Bai Koroma to help contain the deadly Ebola disease which has so far claimed more than 500 lives in Sierra Leone has come to an end.

In a televised addressed on SLBC TV on the eve of the lock down,President Koroma explained why the country was under the “one of the biggest tragedies that has befallen our nation”.”My Government has declared a three-day stay at home ‘Ose to Ose Ebola Tok’ campaign to get this message to every house and family in the country. Everybody in every house in every community in this country is very important in our fight against Ebola,” he said.

The medical charity group Medecine Sans Frontier (MSF) had earlier expressed concern that the exercise would jeopardize the trust between health workers and people and drive many infected persons to go underground. Christina Falconi, Country Director of MSF was quoted as saying: “We support the idea of the increasing awareness about Ebola but we’re extremely concerned about the capacity.” Similar sentiments were shared by many people, whilst some argue that the process will not yield much as the country lack proper systems to make the ‘House to House’ sensitization a success.

In a facebook post before the shutdown, I stated emphatically that there was nothing wrong with a 3 days or 4 days or even 21 days shutdown, if that is what needs to be done to eradicate this deadly disease. But I was also concerned about the effectiveness of the whole process and the economic implications.

On Day one of the ‘House to House’ sensitization, I decided to monitor the process and ensure its effectiveness. Although the general public complied with the stay at home, I realized most of the visiting volunteers came out late in the afternoon.

At Circular Road, I met a team of 4 volunteers and decided to go with them on the sensitization. They were very impressive, perhaps it is because of the level of education of this group had. Their leader told me that he is a Teacher at Albert Academy Secondary School. Another member is a nurse. They were well informed about the disease and know how to pass on preventive messages.

The same day at Wellington Street in central Freetown, I also met 3 young men clad in white Ebola T-Shirts. I interrupted them and introduced myself to them, but I realized that they hardly know their purpose and could hardly talk about Ebola. There were lots of reports that most of the volunteers were not up to the task and could hardly spread useful messages on the disease. There were even reports of some of the volunteers who were drunk during the exercise. Most people complained that they did not receive any soap during the 3 days and other volunteers said some people were removing the stickers placed in some houses just to get more bars of soaps.

Although the general assessment of the volunteers was poor, the journalists from the different radio programs performed extremely well. They complimented the effort of the volunteers by sensitizing their listeners on the different radio stations all across the country.

However, the transportation arrangement during those 3 days was very remarkable. There were buses plying the streets of Freetown transporting volunteers and other essential workers from one point to the other, free of cost.

The effort of the National Power authority (NPA) was also amazing; the power provider supplied constant electricity in most parts of Freetown during the exercise. I also saw their vehicle in the street to rectify any fault during the period, thumbs up to NPA.

I realized also the emergency response for contact tracing was very slow. The 117 emergency numbers didn’t respond on time to emergency calls.For instance, at Monkey Bush, around Waterloo, a whole family died of the disease. Despite several calls to get the authorities to attend to the people, they failed.

For one family of five, the father got infected and died followed by his wife. Ten days after, the eldest daughter, 10 yrs, who was caring for her younger sisters, also got infected. A Rev. Father decided to take the kid to hospital after vomiting and bleeding. The girl died on the back of the pickup van whilst the two others are already infected.

There were reports of Police attacking and beating up people during the exercise. I was present around Connaught Hospital for instance when the Police patrol van stopped and arrested a cleaner who was working for the hospital at Lightfoot Boston Street. He was badly beaten, even though he had a pass. It was after a call was made to the Inspector General of Police that halted the situation. The I.G left his office and drove to the scene; he investigated the matter and asked the victim to make an official report to the CDIID for disciplinary action to be taken against the officers. He also warned them to stop beating people.

Later that day, there was also report of arrest on several other streets across Freetown. I was also present at around St. John when Police officers arrested a man they claimed opened his shop. Most of the complainants maintained that they were arrested in front of their houses.

In Bo, there was report of people going out after 6pm on day one. I also want to commend all those who supported the authorities by producing dead bodies and reporting of infected persons. Over 50 bodies were recovered during the exercise, report says.

On the final day, at 6pm, there were shouts all over Freetown; ‘Jesus’, it was simultaneous just like the ‘salt water’ Ebola bath. I think the exercise was not a bad idea and we hope the authorities will learn from this and improve in other areas.

Report says an official was quoted to have said that Government is contemplating on an extension to contain the disease but the EOC says “the purpose has been achieved.” There is definitely the need for an extension but more emphasis should be placed on the volunteers; training and logistics.

For the sake of transparency, Government must also explain to the people what was the amount spent on this exercise and where.

I think if we do this exercise again well, coupled with the International response already which includes the U.N mission on Ebola, the U.S effort, China and Cuba, we will beat Ebola soon.

 

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Dan Mullin is an active writer and editor for the Pluto Daily who covered the 2014 Ebola Outbreak. Mullin attended the Wake Forest School of Medicine before leaving to pursue his lifelong science goal of allowing humans to live forever via a computer/brain transfer.