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As official death toll reaches 19…

Red Cross Ebola experts arrive today

By Mohamed Massaquoi

A team of six Ebola experts will arrive in the country today as part of an Emergency Response Unit (ERU) to tackle the spread of the deadly Ebola virus in the country, according to an official at the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society (SLRC).

Speaking to Concord Times in an exclusive interview over the weekend, Head of Programmes and Operations, Constant H.S. Kargbo, revealed that the deployment of the team comes after a Field Assessment Team embarked on a three day visit to Kailahun district, which is the epicenter of the outbreak of the deadly Ebola fever, to examine the current trend of the virus.

According to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, as at Friday (13 June), 19 deaths were reported out of 52 confirmed cases, while a total of 138 suspected cases were tested.

Kargbo further noted that after the assessment in Kailahun some few days ago, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Society agreed to send six Ebola experts, including an Information Technology expert to handle internet connectivity issues in the field, to facilitate easier communication at the national and international levels.

He, however, clarified that the experts will not directly be involved in providing clinical care and therapy to suspected Ebola patients or those diagnosed with the disease, but would rather help to strengthen communication among local and foreign actors, and to engage communities in a bid to change perceptions about the disease.

“We know that with our continuous engagement and collaborations with the ministry and other partners will succeeded in changing the mindset of the people, especially those communities where there are suspected cases of Ebola. We are not only limiting ourselves to Kailahun (district), we have already included Kenema district in our national action plan,” he noted.

The SLRC has embarked on community sensitization on the virus, training volunteers and staff in a community awareness raising in six districts, including in the Western Area, as part of their humanitarian assistance to alleviate human suffering.

According to Kargbo, the organization is part of a Task Force set up by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to stem the spread of the epidemic in the country, and that part of their responsibility is the dissemination of information on the prevention and control of Ebola in the Western Area, Bombali, Kambia, Koinadugu, Kono and Kailahun districts.

He said volunteers have been trained on the mode of transmission, signs and symptoms, prevention and control of the Ebola virus, adding that their mandate is to compliment the efforts of government in addressing such national issues.

SLRC Resource Mobilization and Communication Officer, Abubakarr Tarawallie, said plans are underway to revisit some of the messages that have already reached out to people in various communities. He said they are closely working with Airtel Serra Leone to send SMS messages on the prevention and control of Ebola, adding that they would as well strengthen their public engagement strategy by installing public address systems in vehicles so that those far  reaching communities can get appropriate information about the deadly disease.

“It is only when our people are well informed about what to do then we can fight against this pandemic. For now there are mixed information in those communities and with different believes, but we will do our level best through our partnership with the ministry and other health service providers,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, the revised national action plan on Ebola has strongly focused on continuing communications and sensitization activities at the same time building the capacities and support the volunteers involved in the campaigns. It is reported that ninety (90) volunteers were trained by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation on Ebola awareness.

 The plan, according to ministry officials, aims to train an additional fifteen (15) volunteers per targeted district, amounting to a total of two hundred and ten (210) trained volunteers, including thirty (30) in Kenema.

All 210 volunteers, according to health experts, will be trained on the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), Psychosocial Support (PSS), Hygiene Promotion (HP) and epidemic control.

A special communications strategy using community radio in Kailahun will be developed. Community drama activities, including mobile cinemas, will also be included, while a video show will be developed in coordination with UN Population Fund, to be shown at community level to support dissemination activities.

It could be recalled that on 26th May 2014, the National Ebola Task force confirmed cases of Ebola within the borders of Sierra Leone. Since then, the number of confirmed cases has increased steadily.

“To date, all confirmed cases have epidemiological links to Kailahun district, however, there is now one confirmed case in Mambolo, Kambia District, which is reported to be a driver who travelled from Kailahun when sick. After admission to a private hospital, this case was transferred to the Ebola treatment centre in Kenema. A number of suspected cases in Freetown have been excluded by laboratory testing,” an official from the health ministry told this medium.