Downplaying the Ebola outbreak is a Sign of Irresponsibility!


By Rashid Justice Dumbuya

I know Sierra Leoneans are very good at downplaying serious things and even ingenious at making humour out of them. The ‘AFTER U NA U / AFTER GBAGBO NA U’ rhetoric was a testament. However, it must be emphasised that EBOLA is not an issue that Sierra Leoneans should treat with levity. We are talking here about an epidemic that has no cure. We are talking here about an outbreak that has the capacity to wipe out a whole community and region. We are also talking here about a virus that has the potential of spreading like a cankerworm, eating beyond the fabric of our society and ravaging it beyond repairs.

Apart from the foreseeable consequences, there are also latent ramifications that will befall on the entire nation if this scourge is not expediently addressed and curtailed. Apart from putting the country in a bad light, there is also the tendency for investors, international travel agencies and business stakeholders to declare Sierra Leone as unsafe to travel to if this epidemic is not seriously and quickly addressed. The cost implications could be far and wide reaching.

And in case you don’t know, it could also mean refusals of visas for many Sierra Leoneans who may want to travel to many countries abroad unless there is proof of medical certificate to show that one is medically sound. I am sure no patriotic Sierra Leonean would like the country to be blacklisted as such and go through such embarrassment and degrading treatment. This is all the more reason why the jesting and downplaying of the issue must be discouraged. It is certainly a sign of irresponsibility for any Sierra Leonean to make trivial an issue that is currently costing the lives of fellow Sierra Leoneans. What any responsible citizen should be doing at the moment is to raise the awareness, empathise with the affected, pray and join hands together with the stakeholders for a quick and timely elimination of the epidemic from the country.

Let me also seize this opportunity to talk to the government of Sierra Leone. Under International Law, it is the State that has the obligation to ensure the fulfilment of the right to health of its citizens. Any derogation from such duty will impose serious consequences under International Law on the State, its agencies and actors directly responsible for the health needs of the population.

It is therefore vital that the State does all that is reasonable required of her under international law to prevent the spread and mitigate the impacts of this deadly outbreak on the vulnerable population. At the very least, if capacity and resources are inadequate, all the State needs to do is to declare an emergency and call for increased international support and action. There is no need to be ashamed of acknowledging lack of capacity and expertise to handle the menace nor is there any sense in hiding the true figures of EBOLA deaths. After all, when the foot and mouth virus eclipsed European nations, they did not cover it but rather took drastic measures to prevent the spread and mitigate the impacts. So the argument of Sierra Leone being ashamed does not actually make any sense at all.

Furthermore, to politicize an issue of such significance and impact would be the most unfortunate and unwise thing to do given the circumstances and deadly nature of this epidemic. Kissi Teng, Kailahun District is part of Sierra Leone and Sierra Leoneans are the victims that are currently in jeopardy. It is therefore in everyone’s best interest to do something to mitigate the spread and impact.

Let me conclude by sounding a loud bell to all and sundry in Sierra Leone that the world is watching and observing us as we respond to and deal with this outbreak. So many decisions are about to be taken by respective nations on Sierra Leone. We can save the worse from happening by first of all acknowledging the seriousness of the problem at hand and becoming responsible in dealing with it.

The following recommendations if implemented can make a huge difference in the fight against the spread of EBOLA in the country.

1)      Send FULL emergency medical support team with security assistance to KISSY TENG, Kailahun District in order to responsibly deal with the EBOLA epidemic and restore order and sanity in the area.

2)      Make a peaceful appeal to all families of patients alleged to have been infected with the disease who are presently at large to come forward for medical assistance.

3)       Quarantine the affected areas and ensure that people’s movements within the affected zones are limited for the time being.

4)      Embark on proper screening of reported cases and people within affected communities to minimise spread and impact.

5)       The Ministry of Health should embark on a mass sensitization campaign both in the electronic and print media, especially to the neighbouring communities close to the affected areas for them to exercise the utmost precaution and hygiene during this trying period.

6)      Every Sierra Leonean should be conscious of what they eat and also endeavour to wash their hands before eating any food. Disinfectants and liquid wash should be distributed in affected areas and communities.

7)      The custom of shaking of hands should also be limited during this crucial period.

8)       Make-shift/temporary health units and centres should be set up at the affected community areas as an emergency response strategy to deal with the spread.

9)      The African Union Health Emergency Fund should be requested by the State immediately.

10)   Sierra Leone health officials should partner with the Guinean government and international agencies for knowledge sharing, gadgets distribution and skills transfer in order to be able to handle the crisis situation effectively and efficiently.

11)   The Government of Sierra Leone should endeavour to guarantee a right to health in the 1991 Constitution so that it becomes an obligation on the part of government to address the health needs of the population.

12)   The general monthly cleaning exercise must be reinstated in the country.

13)   If things get out of hands, the government should declare a state of emergency and call for more international action and support to fight the EBOLA disease.