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Ebola Viral Disease: A threat to Sierra Leone

SEPTEMBER 25, 2014 By Gabriel Benjamin

 

Sierra Leone, which is on the Atlantic Ocean in West Africa, with a population of about six million people, is under siege of the Ebola Viral Disease. The disease is currently carrying out a campaign of killing and sending to their untimely graves its victims. The virus has left over 500 people dead since the outbreak started in the country. Fear has crawled into every corner of public life. The country’s economy is on its knees. Business owners say that sales are down by half as few customers dare venture out. Deaths resulting from the virus are so frequent that a four-year-old child can now identify.

Conspiracy theories abound. Just about anyone with a stake in national politics is liable to be blamed. Some ruling party apologists believe that members of the opposition may be looking for an excuse to discredit the presidency of President Koroma, paint it in a very bad light in the sight of Sierra Leoneans and whittle down the chances of the ruling party (All People’s Congress) in the next general elections. By contrast, some members of the opposition and the public believe that the present government wants to continue to fuel and over exaggerate the Ebola disease in the country because it will keep pushing up the budget for the Health and Sanitation Ministry, attract more donor funds from the international community, development partners and a range of supporters and sympathizers alike.

Some of these allegations have a grain of truth, but no more. The Health and Sanitation Ministry and the government indeed have gotten extra funds, some of which may end up in private pockets. Some politicians stand to gain, therefore turn a blind eye on the populace.

But the origin of the Ebola Viral Disease in Sierra Leone is over 180 days old. It started in a small village somewhere in the Kailahun District that shares border with Guinea in the far eastern part of the country, and now it is fast spreading to every nook and cranny of the country.

The campaign for the fight against the Ebola virus has accentuated the misery that led to its continual rise in the first place. The living condition in the country is so difficult and naturally the resources available are so scarce. The prices of chlorine, bucket and other essential goods have escalated because of its relationship with the Ebola virus. Food prices have soared. Farmers are afraid to go to the farms. Entertainment centers and relaxation spots no longer accomplish their normal income because of the change in behaviour and ‘government orders’ to ban their operations and public gathering. They now operate on skeletal basis as many persons no longer go to these entertainment centers because they want to avoid body contacts. Therefore, those who are working at entertainment centers and relaxation spots face severe economic challenges.

Funds for road maintenance and other social infrastructures have been diverted to the fight against Ebola. Businessmen who sell sanitizers are among the few who are prospering. Health workers across the country and their heavy-handed approach are plainly part of the problem. Patients are routinely kept waiting and humiliated in hospitals. Patients now survive only by the mercy of God since they are not attended to until proven negative of the Ebola virus by medical result; in some cases they never live to see the medical result.

Polio and other killer diseases may well rise again, since immunization and awareness have dwindled since the advent of the Ebola Viral Disease. With the attention and energy of the police diverted, as they are grossly involved in the fight against the Ebola scourge, theft and other social vices could spiral out of control.

Aid agencies now rarely send staff to the country. Diplomats and investors almost never want to come. Airline operators are also feeling the heat. Lungi, where the country’s only international airport is located, is now a shadow of itself as the road leading to the airport is almost totally deserted. The occupancy rates of hotels in Freetown and its environs have plunged and those who will not withstand the condition will have to shift their priority to purchasing tickets to leave the country.

The government had seen the Ebola virus mainly as a health problem, until only recently when it was declared as a ‘National Crisis’. Those around the president don’t understand what is driving the continual spread of the virus. There are exceptions. Stephen Gaojia, who was recently appointed by the president as the Coordinator of Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), “a new anti-Ebola strategy”, has sought to convince all Sierra Leoneans that the three days lockdown was a huge success considering the number of dead bodies that were recovered, new cases discovered and massive awareness created. But most Sierra Leoneans share a divergent view as they see the exercise as “a wild goose chase”. They said political leaders have loathed acknowledging the gravity of the situation, whilst they sit inside their fortified mansions.

Political leaders in the country continue to sing in different tunes since the outbreak of the virus without collecting and evaluating intelligence from the World Health Organization and Centre for Disease Control, and have continued to downplay the consequences the Ebola virus has on the country’s populace. For all their crudity, they have allowed the virus to spread like wild fire killing a lot of Sierra Leoneans in recent months and driving a wedge between the state and the people.

Though reckoned as one of Africa’s fastest growing and promising economies, Sierra Leone has not been trained to fight a disease outbreak in the magnitude of the Ebola virus. The disease has exploited the gross ineptitude in governance and has spread randomly across the country, invariably killing innocent men, women and children.

We have seen an unprecedented rise in the US dollar against the Leone since the outbreak of the virus, and it seems to continue unabated. The government should not seek to peel the more flexible of this. We are trying to draw government’s attention to this: we do hope that government will become proactive and ruthless in the fight against the Ebola virus and apply a sterner approach towards combating its continual spread because if urgent measures are not put in place now, the worst may yet to be heard.

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