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Ebola: where are we headed for?

OCTOBER 15, 2014 By Regina Pratt

When I first read the report of ‘Save the Children’ on the impact of the Ebola Virus in Sierra Leone, I thought it was a huge joke. I said to myself how possible can this be? How can over a hundred persons contract Ebola in just a single day?

Although Mark Buttle of ‘Save the Children’ said, “Cultural practices may be putting dozens of Sierra Leoneans at a greater risk of contracting the virus”, the report that over thirty graves are daily being dug for the burial of Ebola victims is also worrisome. But for such a statement to emanate from an international non-governmental organization, one could not but subscribe to their findings and submission. I hope we are not heading for an ‘avoidable’ disaster as a nation.

Frankly speaking, President Koroma needs to up his game and make necessary and positive changes towards his strategy in fighting the Ebola Virus Disease as previous changes he had made within yielded very poor result. The Ebola Virus is spreading geometrically. Sierra Leoneans are living in perpetual fear. The economy is in comatose. Schools have been shut down across the country with no hope in sight for a resumption date. Freetown is currently the new ‘epicenter’. The government seems to be bereft of ideas. Nowhere is safe. No one is safe.

The sick are afraid to visit hospitals and other health facilities across the country for fear of being branded ‘Ebola patients’. During a program aired on a local radio station, a patient at the Ebola Holding Centre in Hastings said she was only suffering from a heart problem and reported at the Connaught Hospital, only to be transferred to the Ebola centre, and that since her blood sample was taken no result has been given to her.

However, several figures are released daily on Ebola deaths, survivors and suspected cases. These figures are scaring. They are alarming. We have once again called on our ‘big brothers’ for aid – not against the rebels or terrorists, but against this ‘unseen enemy’ that has plunged deep into the fabric of the nation’s economy, threatening our existence as a people and daily killing scores of Sierra Leoneans. No, thanks to Koinadugu for ‘holding the fort’ against the killer Ebola virus, as it still remains the only district where the virus is yet to claim any life. The district was quick to put robust measures in place. It is tracking all by-pass routes to its various towns and vehemently refusing and rejecting any suspicious infected person from entering the district. It has further banned all traditional forms of treatment for sick persons.

Freetown, the country’s capital city and administrative headquarters, is being threatened by the Ebola Virus. The economic importance of Freetown cannot be overemphasized. It’s economic significant is pivotal to the day-to-day running of the government. It is home to the country’s highest economic activities and political authority. It is also the point for convergence, and the implementation scheme to purge Sierra Leone of the Ebola virus. Hence, government should not permit the Ebola Virus to weaken its presence and institutions in Freetown.

The government and development partners need to help stem the unabated spread of the disease in Freetown. Isolating Ebola hotspots in Freetown and its environs will certainly be a positive step in the right direction towards stemming the spread of the virus. Effective and efficient contact tracers should be recruited in this regard to help trace persons who are still in their hideouts.

It is obvious that as the year is gradually coming to an end, the number of visitors coming to Freetown (JCs) will be insignificant as a result of the Ebola Virus. Ferry operations will also be skeletal. The country’s airspace will definitely witness a low traffic owing to fear by airline operators for safety of their workers, especially those on-board from contracting the Ebola virus.

Frankly speaking, with all the donations in cash and equipment including vehicles, the government should put in place proactive measures that will ensure that the Ebola Virus is prevented from spreading any further in the country’s capital, as failure to do so will advertently  mean ‘they have lost focus’.

World Health Organization Advice

The Ebola virus disease outbreak in Sierra Leone is continuing to accelerate with a total of 2,950 cases reported by October 8, and hundreds of new infections identified each week. With so many critically-ill people to care for, treatment centers are currently overwhelmed and struggling to meet demand, a WHO release states.

The release further states that goals shared by the government of Sierra Leone and partners working to overcome Ebola is to increase the number of beds in Ebola treatment units as rapidly but also as safely as possible. This, WHO says, takes time as facilities must be constructed or redesigned to reduce the risk of health care worker infection and increase patient safety.

“Already 123 health care workers have developed Ebola virus disease symptoms and, tragically, 97 of them have died,” the release says.

According to the organisation, it is to shorten waiting times and provide care closer to home, community, as Ebola care units are now being put in place in the communities most heavily affected.

These Ebola care units have an average of eight beds per centre and are staffed by health care workers and members of the community trained in infection control. They give Ebola care such as oral rehydration salts and medicines to relieve symptoms and treat other common causes of fever such as malaria, WHO says.

Current plans for building Ebola care units will add an extra 1000 beds for people ill with Ebola virus disease

WHO has stated that anyone with Ebola needs access to good care as quickly as possible, noting that while waiting for the ambulance or for a bed to be free in the nearest treatment unit, it is essential that family members and others caring for the sick person understand how to protect themselves from infection.

To enable household members to stay safe while waiting, interim recommendations for protection of households have been developed and approved by the Emergency Operations Committee (EOC).

In summary these state that:

Taking care of the patient suspected to have EVD at home is not recommended; all efforts should be made to safely transport patients to an appropriate Ebola care facility.

To reduce risk of infection of other family members, the following general recommendations should be followed:

1. The patient should be asked to restrict movement to one room or area in the house and should avoid leaving it, if possible.

2. Where possible, the patient should be asked to use one toilet that other household members do not use. If a separate toilet is not available, the patient can use a separate waste bucket, followed by proper decontamination with strong chlorine solution. Avoid direct contact with other family members.

3. If care must be given to the patient, only one family member should be designated to provide the care.

4. Caregivers should wear gloves or use towels soaked in weak chlorine solution whenever they touch the patient, personal items belonging to the patient (e.g., clothing, bedding, eating and drinking utensils, mobile phones, etc.) or their body fluids (e.g., vomit, stool, urine, etc.).

5. Caregivers should avoid contact with the patient’s body fluids by staying behind or beside the patient while giving care, and never facing the patient.

6. Hands should be washed very well with soap and water or weak chlorine solution before and after entering the patient’s room/area and after removing gloves.

7. A mask or a dry towel wrapped around the face can be used to protect the nose and mouth when entering the patient’s room/area.

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