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Containing Ebola Virus in Western Area: Radical and Robust Approach Needed

NOVEMBER 19, 2014  By Alusine Sesay

CEO of NERC Rtd Major Alfred Palo Conteh
CEO of NERC Rtd Major Alfred Palo Conteh

While declaring the three day lockdown which was geared towards house-to- house sensitization on the Ebola virus disease, President Ernest Bai Koroma noted that “Ebola is no respecter of persons. It is not an APC or SLPP disease. It is not a disease of any political party, or ethnic group or district. Anyone who is not careful can endanger themselves and others that they love. These are extra-ordinary times, and extra-ordinary times require extra-ordinary measures”.

After the three day national lockdown, the then Emergency Operations Centre Coordinator, Steven Gaujia remarked that “tremendous achievements were made and that many sick and dead bodies were discovered in homes across the country”. Shortly after that, the virus reared its ugly face in the Western Area, with new confirmed cases reported in virtually all the districts in the capital, Freetown and its immediate environs.

At the weekly Ministry of Information and Communication press briefing, Steven Gaujia noted that “the fight against the Ebola Virus was difficult because theEOC was yet a makeshift structure andthat plans were underway to appoint district coordinators in other to enhance its operations in the fight against the Ebola Virus”.

No sooner after his statement, State House issued a press release announcing a new strategy in the fight against the Ebola Virus. The statement reads in part “The general public is hereby informed that as the unprecedented outbreak of the dreadful Ebola disease continues to claim the lives of many of our citizens, our friends and international partners have scaled up their support to Sierra Leone with a view to bringing the epidemic under control. This heightened support includes the deployment of trained medical personnel and equipment and the planned establishment of well-equipped withholding and treatment centres across the country. Due to the diversity of the resources being provided and the intensity of the activities to be undertaken, it has become necessary to reconfigure the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) into a separate entity that will have a robust command and control structure to effectively eradicate Ebola. In that regard, the EOC  has been renamed the National Ebola Response Centre (NERC) which will be located together with the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) at the premises of the former Special Court for Sierra Leone at New England in Freetown. The governing body of NERC will be headed by his Excellency the president. As it is constitutionally stipulated and always the case, the president appointed the former Defense Minister, Retired Major Paolo Conteh as the Chief Executive Officer of NERC.”

This was followed by the appointment of various District Coordinators charged with responsibilities to handle cases of Ebola virus in the various districts across the country.

With an ex-military man at the helm of affairs in the fight against the Ebola virus, one would expect that the situation would be arrested using the ‘command and control’ lingo of the military all over the world. However, instead of exhibiting stability in the fight against the Ebola, Sierra Leone continues to lag behind Guinea and Liberia where the disease was first reported. The only achievement that can be ascribed to the NERC is that, dead bodies are no longer left to decompose in homes, since they took the onus to burry all corpses.

Those who have come to assist the country in the fight are not happy with the trend of events. We do not expect to hear them say it aloud. However, in their quite corners, they will be venting their frustration at the scheme of things. Despite huge resources being committed to the fight against the Ebola virus and tremendous efforts being in no scant display, the virus continues to spread unabatedly.

The saddest dismay is that for the past one week, the Western Area Urban of Freetown has continued to register the highest number of new cases of the Ebola virus. The issue is that majority of Freetown’s residents pride themselves of being the ‘most civilized’; yet continue to flout the ‘Public Health Emergency Orders’ with reckless abandon.

There is also this fallacy that Freetown residents are mostly educated and civilized and that little should be done about them with regards to enforcement of the laws. But the fact remains, the city is filled with ‘educated illiterates’ – literates who are educated but behave like ‘hoodlums’.

The real lawless individuals are the ones who one thinks are educated and drive ‘big jeeps’. I am not in any way envying their achievements. The fact is that these are the people who stuff themselves in cinemas to watch European and English football matches. Go to the bars at night; you will surely see them there intoxicating with alcohol.

The city operates within a metropolitan system in which the police are solely responsible for maintaining law and order, but they are absolutely not treating the issue with the seriousness it deserves – ‘public health emergency’. To them, it is ‘business as usual’. No draconian measures in dealing with the Ebola Virus.  They compromised with quarantined homes at the expense of the masses. They pamper residents of Freetown, forgetting the proverbial saying that ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’.

We all know what happened when the then National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) wanted to instill discipline in the country. No compromise. Everybody was treated as equals in society. Those who thought that they were ‘big guys’ and could do things and get away with it, were humiliated by the ‘Junta guys’. You dare not move out with your car on a cleaning Saturday because it could be used to transport filth to the dump site.

Democracy is good. How be it, some draconian measures are necessary to enforce attitudinal change. Radical approaches are necessary in instilling discipline. This is the sure bet way of getting rid of the Ebola virus. If ‘public flogging’ could be a necessary approach to force people’s adherence to the ‘Public Health Emergency Orders’, then it must be applied in the interest of the general good.

The security apparatus, especially the Sierra Leone Police, needs to apply some radical measures to contain the spread of the Ebola virus in Freetown. Chasing commercial bike riders alone is completely a misnomer in the fight against the dreaded Ebola Virus. The ‘Okada Riders’ are not the only lawless individuals in the city. Hence, to focus on them presents a complete disjoint in the fight against Ebola virus.

Thus, the police should redouble their effort by deploying men at strategic locations in Freetown so as to arrest and prosecute those who flout the Public Health Emergency Orders’.

The police should also be doing ‘on the spot check’ at some of the cinemas around Freetown during weekends and they would see ‘sense in my madness’. I hope ‘our men in the blue’ would not compromise.

The average Sierra Leonean does not need to be pampered or else h/she would take undue advantage. Remember, ‘when gentility fails, brutality succeeds’

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