March 10, 2015 By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
The Ghanaian community in Sierra Leone on March 6th marked their country’s 58th Independence Anniversary in solidarity with Sierra Leoneans by honouring the late Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, and all medical personnel who lost their lives working at the Ebola frontline.
Dr. Khan was the first of 11 Sierra Leonean doctors who lost their lives while trying to save their country folks from the ravaging claws of the Ebola Virus Disease.
At a modest ceremony at the Hill Station residence of the Ghana High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Maj. Rtd. Carl S. Modey, on Friday, March 6th 2015, the Ghanaians presented assorted food items and an envelope with undisclosed cash to the family of the late doctor.
The Khan family was represented by the late doctor’s elder brother, C-ray Khan, his two children, Sheik Umar Khan Jnr. and Marita, and his niece.
Preceding the Independence Day ceremony, a special delegation was sent to the home of the Khan family in Lungi to inquire about their son, as per tradition similar to both countries. “Where’s our son? We’ve heard rumours…” they inquired. The family confirmed the ‘rumours’ of the death of their son, and the invitation to the ceremony was extended.
According to Maj. Rtd. Modey, they did that to send a message of culture and tradition.
“Our message is that in this period of health crisis we keep the traditions that are good and we discard those that are bad. For example, the tradition of washing dead bodies and secretly burying them is bad, so we must suspend such cultural practices for now,” he said.
Dr. Khan is dearly missed and mourned just as much in Ghana, where he spent three years (2010-2013) conducting Residency Training in Internal Medicine at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, Accra, Ghana, and was awarded an MWACP (Member West Africa College of Physicians). He returned to Sierra Leone after this training and in January 2014 was appointed Associate Lecturer at the Department of Medicine at the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences (COMAHS). Following the death of Dr. Aniru Conteh from Lassa Fever, Dr. Khan was appointed to replace him as head of the Lassa Fever medical project in Kenema.
According to his brother, apart from lucrative job offers in Ghana and Nigeria, Dr. Khan turned down convincing propositions by his colleagues to settle in Freetown and open a private clinic ‘because Freetown is where the money is’.
“He (Dr. Khan) said no, I want to be in the field in Kenema, the people need me there,” C-ray quoted his late brother’s response.
The first reported confirmed case of Ebola in Sierra Leone was on May 25th 2014, and Dr. Khan found himself at the frontline in Kenema (and the Eastern region) combating a new outbreak.
“He served his country with integrity and humanity,” said C-ray. “But sadly he was not given enough opportunity to do so.”
Dr. Khan was infected by the Ebola virus in the line of duty and died on 29th July 2014, barely two months after the outbreak.
Maj. Rtd. Modey described Dr. Khan as a foster son to Ghana and a true warrior.
“On this day we remember the sacrifice of our forefathers who toiled, sweat and shed their blood for us to have Independence. But today we also equally remember Dr. Khan and other medical doctors who remained at the frontline, and fought like soldiers to get us where we are today in the fight against Ebola,” he said, adding that the lesson learnt is that we must be prepared to make sacrifices for the general good.
Apart from paying tribute to Dr. Khan and Co., the Ghanaians also utilized the occasion to re-sensitize their community about Ebola and urging them to continue to uphold the do’s and don’ts to stay safe, and fully comply with the Public Emergency regulations.
From the onset Ghana has been very helpful to Sierra Leone in particular, and the sub region in general, in the fight against the Ebola outbreak.
The President of Ghana, His Excellency John Dramani Mahama, took the sensitive decision for Accra to be used as the logistics base of UNMEER operations supporting the Ebola-affected countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, which made it possible for the UN mission to be the fastest established mission, from the passing of the Security Council Resolution to its formation. This allows for a number of aircrafts carrying medical, relief and logistic supplies crisscrossing the sub-region from Ghana.
However, it also in itself posed a threat to Ghana and her people, but the President, in the larger interest, took the bold and decisive decision to establish the base much to the chagrin of the country’s opposition parties.
“That decision was very crucial. It cannot be quantified but the impact it has had on the fight against Ebola in the sub-region is there for all to see,” said Maj. Rtd. Modey.
The Ghanaian President was the first of seven Heads of State to visit Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis on 15th September 2014 both as President of Ghana and as Chairman of the regional grouping ECOWAS.
On the following day 16th September, 2014, the Ghanaian community, including staff of the High Commission, professionals and ordinary Ghanaians living in Sierra Leone donated Le17m (Seventeen Million Leones) towards the fight against Ebola in the country. The cheque was presented to His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma, who handed it over to the Deputy Minister of Health and Sanitation 1 in the presence of the Ghanaian delegation at State House.
Furthermore, the Ghanaian government sent a plane load of 50 tons of strictly made-in-Ghana relief items including rice, chocolate drink and vegetable oil to each of the three Ebola-affected countries. Sierra Leone’s deputy Minister of Health and Sanitation II, Madina Rahman, reported that the relief items helped hugely in the recovery of many Ebola patients at the treatment centers.
By sending strictly made-in-Ghana food stuffs, Maj. Rtd. Modey said they are sending a message of self-reliance to their sister countries, ‘to eat what we grow and produce’.
In addition, Ghana was an integral contingent of the West African Health Association (WAHO) medical teams deployed in the three affected countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone as part of a regional initiative in response to the Ebola outbreak. The co-operation of the team, which spent three months in Sierra Leone and has returned, as they blended smoothly with their Sierra Leonean counterparts at the Hastings Ebola Treatment Center (PTS), was hailed by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation.
Sequel to this, a special delegation from Ghana’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation was in Sierra Leone quite recently to review the WAHO Ghanaian response in Sierra Leone and to learn some lessons in the fight against Ebola.
Meanwhile, the Ghana High Commissioner commended his compatriots living in Sierra Leone for being law abiding.
“In the six months I have been here as High Commissioner I have never received any complaints from the law enforcement agencies and the wider Sierra Leonean society against my people,” said Maj. Rtd. Modey with delight, and urged all Ghanaians to continue to be law abiding.
He thanked His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, his government, and people of Sierra Leone for the friendship, hospitality and care accorded to Ghanaians living and working in Sierra Leone.
“We pray that Ebola is gone soon and our friendship will further deepen in a lot more areas,” said Maj. Rtd. Modey.
Ghana, then known as the Gold Coast, was the first African State to achieve independence in 1957.
Credit: Development & Economic Journalists Association- Sierra Leone (DEJA-SL).