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Ebola Virus’ Dangerous Spread in Freetown

OCTOBER 8, 2014 By Gabriel Benjamin

During the past weeks, the Ebola Virus has expanded from its area of operations  and is now fast spreading across the length and breadth of Freetown which is the strategic and administrative headquarters of Sierra Leone. Freetown’s geographical location has made it economically significant; it is home to the country’s highest economic activities and political authority. It is also the focal point for the implementation strategy to purge Sierra Leone of the dreaded Ebola disease.

It is crystal clear that the Ebola Virus is here to “dismantle” the government of President Koroma and weaken state institutions. Anyone who is oblivious of this is living in an illusory state of wellbeing.

Several months after the first case was reported in Kailahun, almost every district in the country has recorded an incidence, with the epicenters shifting rapidly north-westwards. Koinadugu remains the only district that has not registered confirmed cases of the Ebola Virus.

As at October 6, 2014, the country had witnessed cumulative confirmed cases of 2,464, with Kailahun – 532, Kenema – 431, Bombali -294, Port Loko – 346, Tonkolili -100, Bo – 112, Moyamba – 68, and Western Area – 510; all taking the lead.

In July 2014, the Ebola Virus fulfilled its first major threat by killing the country’s top Ebola doctor, Dr. Sheik Umar Khan who was credited with treating more than 100 patients who had contracted the virus. This was followed almost immediately with the shocking death of Dr. Modupe Cole, one of the country’s top physicians at the Connaught Hospital in Freetown on August 16, 2014. Dr. Cole contracted the virus whilst trying to save the lives of others. And like Dr. Umar Khan, Sierra Leone lost another hero.

As the casualty continues on the side of the country’s physicians and nurses, Mbalu Fonnie, an experienced nurse at the Kenema Government Hospital, also fell victim of the Ebola Virus. Before she bowed to the chilling hands of the virus, she had managed advanced Lassa fever infections (a disease with symptoms similar to the Ebola Virus) in pregnant women. Fonnie was caring for one of her co-workers, who was pregnant and infected with the virus, when she contracted the disease herself. Same goes for Mohamed Fullah, who was working as a laboratory technician. He died few days after contracting the virus.

The latest loss was Dr. Olivet Buck. She contracted the Ebola Virus on Tuesday, September 9. This strike by the virus on Dr. Buck was ‘extraordinarily pathetic’ as it prompted President Koroma to send an urgent letter to WHO seeking aid in organizing her evacuation to Hamburg, Germany. The president felt that the country, which already has a shortage of health workers, could not afford to lose another of its top doctors.

Earlier this week, a Norwegian nurse working for Doctors without Borders in the country was infected with the Ebola Virus. The virus is likely to become more diverse and complex over time. With the current tempo at which it is spreading, the likelihood of a devastating consequence cannot be overruled. Harsh economic conditions, health hazard and stigmatization may likely take a toll on its victims.

The Ebola Virus has infiltrated the country’s capital city through alliances with persons who have contracted it. Freetown is now in a state of panic. There are serious fears that many of those who have contracted the virus are refusing to come out of their hiding and are into self-medication. Also, stakeholders are concerned about the likelihood of a massive upsurge in the number of reported cases in Freetown in the coming weeks, because of the slow incubation period of the virus.

What happened in Kailahun and Kenema might be inevitable in Freetown unless there is rapid and urgent intervention and massive sensitization. This is the only antidote that will help in curtailing the new development, save millions of lives that are living in areas where the virus can thrive, and stop it from spreading far afield.

President Koroma should remain undaunted. He should not seek to transfer authority and responsibility to any of his surrogates. He needs to shame the Ebola Virus for ravaging his country, and for sending scores of Sierra Leoneans to their early and untimely grave. He should emphasize on the need for collective cooperation among all Sierra Leoneans regardless of tribe and tongue, region and religion, and political affiliation.

He should as a matter of urgent importance address the grievances of health workers and those in the frontline in the fight against the disease. He should improve security presence in quarantined homes and communities to avoid those under surveillance from interacting with the general public.

This should not be a time for accusation and counter-accusation. All warring factions around the president should sheath their swords. All the doubts and blame game about the sincerity of government’s officials in joining forces with the president to tame the virus should be laid aside forthwith. The negative impression that government officials are working on cross-purpose should be corrected. In addition, funds received for the sole purpose of combating the Ebola Virus should be judiciously and meticulously utilized.

Presumably, President Koroma still remains the only political leader who can unite and give Sierra Leoneans hope in the face of these trying times. Thus, the possibility that there is light at the end of the tunnel cannot be quelled. With singleness of mind and unity of purpose the Ebola Virus can be stamped out of the country.