January 28, 2015 By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk) reporting from Kailahun
Kailahun on Sunday (25 January) joined Pujehun to become the second district in Sierra Leone to reach the milestone of 42 consecutive days registering zero Ebola infection, but the mood in the region was one of somber reflection than celebration.
Apart from a general statement by the Chairman of the Kailahun District Council, Alex Bhonapha, repeatedly aired on local radio, there was no ceremony to mark the day. Both the District Chairman and the Resident Minister East passed the day quietly in Kenema town.
In the wake of government lifting restrictions on inter-district movement, there seems to be apprehension among officials and the people.
“There is no celebration. As long as Ebola is still in Sierra Leone we’re not free,” said Hon. Paramount Chief Mohamed Sama Kailondo Banya IV.
Chief Banya said they understood the decision of government to relax some of the emergency measures but thought it might be one too hasty.
“We know it (restrictions) affected commercial activities a great deal, but we feel threatened. It’s now our responsibility as Sierra Leoneans to check ourselves,” he said, and called on his people to be more vigilant in the fight against the EVD.
The people are generally afraid to celebrate, said Samuel Margai, District Coordinator of Pikin To Pikin Movement.
“I think the concern of the people is reasonable enough. It was only one Ebola case here in this region that led to cases all over the country,” said Margai, adding that the potential for new infection cases shouldn’t be ruled out with the resumption of free inter-district movement.
There is also threat from the exceptionally porous borders Kailahun shares with neighboring Guinea and Liberia, two sister countries also heavily hit by the virus.
The first Ebola case in Sierra Leone, according to reports, was traced from Guinea to Kissi Teng Chiefdom, Kailahun District. Ebola in the sub-region reportedly also started in Guinea, in a village called Gberu that is about three miles from Kailahun.
Approximately 300 to 400 people have died from the disease in Kailahun since the first case was reported on 24th May 2014 and the district was declared an epicenter. In one village called Njala, Jawei Chiefdom, 40 out of 68 inhabitants reportedly died of the disease.
Bhonapha said Kailahun was ‘hell’ and they ‘walked through the shadow of the valley of death’ during the peak of the outbreak in the district.
However, in spite of all that, Bhonapha paid tribute to officials at all levels, partners and his ‘law-abiding people’ for reaching this far; and stressed that the state of emergency regulations was still in force.
On the eve of recording the 42 days uninterrupted zero infection case, a clash between Soweis (traditional women secret society) and the district burial team threatened to reverse the gains made by the region.
The MSF treatment center and district government hospital are on alert for any new case. The last patient discharged from the MSF treatment center about 21 days ago was suffering from pneumonia, according to the attendant nurses.
Project Coordinator MSF Kailahun, Judith Letellier, said they hope the infection cases would continue to decline across the country.
Meanwhile, Council officials said President Ernest Bai Koroma and his Local Government Minister plan a visit to Kailahun on Thursday to mark the achievement. Reliable sources said the President requested a delay of any planned ceremony by the officials to meet his schedule, while Vice President Sam Sumana cancelled a trip to the district from Kono on Monday to meet that request.
Note: This is a Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) sponsored reporting.