February 6, 2015 By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
There’s now a loose saying among Sierra Leoneans that any menace that starts in Kailahun District, Eastern Sierra Leone, will definitely spread across every region of the country.
From the first gun shot in Bomaru, Kailahun District, in 1991 the decade-long rebel war reached every corner of Sierra Leone leaving an unprecedented trail of destruction of lives and property in the country’s history.
Equally so, from the first officially confirmed Ebola case in Kpondu village, Kissi Teng chiefdom, Kailahun District on 24th/25th May, 2014, the EVD has touched every district in Sierra Leone, except perhaps Bonthe Island which, for reasons of ‘remoteness and God’s mercy’ according to the District Health Superintendent (DHS) there, hasn’t recorded any positive case so far.
Strangely, according to reports, the first Ebola case, Mammie Lebbie, didn’t receive any regular treatment but is said to still be alive in Sokoma- a small community near Kpondu. Health officials at the Kailahun Government Hospital explained that she ran away into the thick bush when the ambulance team came for her. The next time a larger team arrived, they met an empty village.
But after several weeks, following series of consecutive odd deaths, it was the people of Kpondu village themselves that invited the health officials to come and rescue them.
According to the DHS of the Kailahun Government Hospital, Sister Angela Rogers, Mammie Lebbie survived through ‘symptomatic treatment’- a situation where only the symptoms of the EVD (e.g. fever, headache, diarrhea, etc) are treated.
Unlike other Ebola survivors, Mammie Lebbie does not have a survivor’s certificate and has never benefitted from the usual survivor’s package either.
At the peak of the rebel war in the 1990s Kailahun District recorded the most deaths. The infamous Slaughter House, where hundreds of innocent civilians including women and children were reportedly slaughtered in cold blood and in broad day light, still stands there at the center of the town. The stench of decayed human blood still fills the atmosphere around it.
Similarly, at the height of the Ebola outbreak in late June-July 2014, according to WHO, more than 80 new Ebola cases were reported per week in Kailahun; and more than 50 bodies were buried in just 12 days in makeshift graveyards close to the Ebola treatment center. ‘And this number did not include people who died in their homes’.
But how do the people of Kailahun feel about the fact that they have literally been the launch pad for two of the biggest disasters to befall Sierra Leone in the last three decades. Hon PC Mohamed Sama Kailondo Banya IV doesn’t agree it is misfortune.
“Unlike other border districts, Kailahun is strategically located between Liberia and Guinea,” he said. “The rebel war started in Liberia in the early 80s; naturally, because of proximity, it spilled over to Kailahun. Similarly, the EVD started in Guinea in Guéckédou, and spread to border villages with easy distance from Kissi Teng Chiefdom. Naturally again, you know it will eventually cross over to Kailahun. And at that time there were no laws or restrictions against cross border travels.”
Having been through all of this (and that) one can understand why the people of Kailahun remain timid in the event of clocking past 42 days quite recently without recording any new Ebola case. The day passed by quietly as just another day in this episode of their history. Hon Paramount Chief Banya IV was at home nursing an illness that would soon see him travel to Ghana for treatment. The Resident Minister East, Maya Kaikai, and the District Chairman Alex Bhonapha spent the day in Kenema town. The District Medical Officer, Dr. James Squire, allegedly earlier ran away to Freetown escaping the torment of health workers constantly storming his office in protest of their hazard allowances and raining invectives on him.
Outside on the red dusty streets there were pockets of people here and there. The general mood was one of a people in great pain. A people hurt by their own misfortune and years and years of neglect by successive governments. With all the troubles this district has been through, the people of Kailahun should not be searching for development; it is development itself that should find them.
And the road to that development has come as close as Pendembu, only 17 horrible miles more to the district headquarter town of Kailahun.
Note: This is a Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) sponsored reporting.