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Ebola and the bumpy road to zero case

March 2, 2015  By Gabriel Benjamin

Commander-in- Chief, President Ernest Bai Koroma
Commander-in- Chief, President Ernest Bai Koroma

“We still have to ensure we get to zero and stay zero until the stipulated 42 days by World Health Organization (WHO).” – President Ernest Koroma, 2015.

A fortnight ago, Presidents of the three Mano River Union (MRU) countries hardest hit by Ebola – Dr. Ernest Koroma of Sierra Leone, Professor Alpha Conde of Guinea, Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, and a representative of Alassane Ouattara of Cote d’Ivoire – held an Extraordinary Summit in Conakry, Guinea’s capital, where they unanimously vowed to defeat Ebola within 60 days. They called on the international community to provide financial support, including debt cancellation. They committed also to embrace ‘New Deal Principles’.

The three presidents also recognized other countries’ efforts that have resulted in the decline in Ebola infection cases and death rates. They expressed condolences to families who have lost their loved ones across the region, especially health personnel who were in the forefront, fighting to defeat the virus. They plan to enhance infection prevention control, social mobilization, and mental psycho-social support among others. The leaders finally approved a strategy for reaching and sustaining zero Ebola cases.

Ebola has dealt a devastating blow on socio-economic activities in the region with over 23,000 persons infected, more than 14,000 laboratory-confirmed cases and over 9,000 fatalities. In Sierra Leone, there are over 8,300 confirmed cases, with over 3,100 deaths. But following a sharp decline in late December and January, the number of new cases hit a tableland in February, with 171 new cases in the week ending February 27. This was driven by a large number of new cases in Aberdeen, Western Urban Area – the latest “hot-spot”, and Bombali in the Northern Province. The reality is that both numbers of new infections and fatalities have whittled down. Apparently, it’s cherry news on the war against Ebola in Sierra Leone.

Recently, the Audit Report on the management of Ebola funds was released. ‘Incurable critics’ have not ceased to cast aspersions on the Auditor General (AG), Mrs. Lara Taylor-Pearce, for “blackmailing, embarrassing, and playing out a script to undermine efforts in getting Ebola to zero cases”. Unnecessarily, they furiously alleged that her report is distorted, and aimed at ostensibly pitching public opinion against them, as ample time was not given to respond before making the report public. But their submission is at variance with the AG’s stance because the AG’s report appears to be both believable and acceptable.

Weeks after the Mano River Union Summit, President Koroma hosted key leaders from Africa and beyond. The solidarity has been robust. There has been a unified and strong determination to defeat Ebola. Former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, was the first to call in. During his visit, he reassured President Koroma of additional support from the international community to give a ‘final push’ to defeating the dreaded Ebola virus, and pledged to further reach out to the international community to sensitize them about post-Ebola socio-economic recovery challenges in the region.

Following Obasanjo was a visit by the newly appointed World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti. During her visit, Dr. Moeti assured President Koroma of WHO’s support and commitment to ending the Ebola outbreak. She keyed in to the president’s vision of strengthening the health sector. In her words, “WHO is committed to bring the Ebola outbreak to an end, bring cases down to zero, support the government in re-establishing the country’s health systems and make them more robust.”

Then, the Chief Administrator of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Helen Clark visited. Visiting, she said she was in the country to discuss the last push to get to zero and the UNDP’s role in the fight during the transition into the recovery period. “I go away with the impression that this [getting to zero cases] is doable and encourage the international community to ‘stay the course’,” she submitted.

Also, the UK Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon, visited to herald the getting to zero message. He said, “It’s an honour to visit the UK troops who have been in the country working with other medics and international NGOs to help slow the spread of the deadly plague. We are not at the stage of seeing zero new cases emerge but we have helped to reduce the numbers significantly.”

Finally, with the March meeting in Brussels, April meeting of the World Bank and IMF in Washington DC, and the UN Secretary-General’s proposed conference towards the end of May, Sierra Leone, like other affected countries in the MRU, will have a window to look at, among other things, reconstruction efforts, economic opportunities and jobs creation, recovery of the health system, resilient governance for recovery, peace and stability, and risk management to deal with any future outbreaks. Things can only get better, the country stronger and more resilient.

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