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Lawlessness in the fight against Ebola

NOVEMBER 11, 2014 By Alusine Sesay

CEO of NERC Rtd Major Alfred Palo Conteh has vowed to instill discipline in the fight against the Ebola Virus
CEO of NERC Rtd Major Alfred Palo Conteh has vowed to instill discipline in the fight against the Ebola Virus

On 9th November 2014, the highest number of confirmed Ebola cases was recorded in the country. According to the update from the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, 111 cases of new Ebola were reported across the country. Meanwhile, Liberia and Guinea are showing significant improvement, with tremendous reduction in the number of new Ebola cases. Why Sierra Leone has continued to grapple with the Ebola Virus Disease with such high figures remains to be fathomed.

Instead of an improvement in the new cases recorded, the country has continued to face the worse despite rebranding the Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) – nerve centre of anti-Ebola operations – the National Ebola Response Centre (NERC). The situation has worsened unabatedly.

This could not be unconnected to lawlessness inculcated and practiced in the country.

Most shocking is that while the south-eastern part of the country – Kenema, Kailahun, Bo, Pujehun, Bonthe, Moyamba and Kono – are exhibiting remarkable stability with mostly zero new infections for days, recent updates from the Ministry of Health and Sanitation have shifted the ‘new epicenter’ of the outbreak to the north-western axis of the country – Western Area, including Freetown, Port Loko and Bombali.

The significant improvement in new cases in former epicentres of Kenema and Kailahun is simply based on the fact that traditional authorities in those areas introduced rigid mechanisms to complement government’s effort in containing the dreaded Ebola virus disease. Though both districts initially recorded huge numbers of deaths related to Ebola, due to denial and strong attachment to traditional practices, bye-laws invoked by traditional authorities and strict adherence to them by the residents have  accounted for the spectacular improvement in containing the outbreak in that part of the country.

Bye-laws instituted in the south-eastern part of the country did not only bite ordinary residents, they also hit traditional authorities who breeched its application. The same cannot be said about the north which is putatively the ‘seat of power’, as residents have flagrantly violated bye-laws. This has in no small measure contributed to the spike in the Ebola virus disease like ‘a wild fire in the Harmattan’.

Makeni, the home town of President Koroma, exhibits the highest degree of lawlessness in these horrific days in our country. There was a time in the township when people flooded the streets shouting ‘Ebola don don’ (Ebola is finished). This unfortunate event was followed by massive arrests, the declaration of a curfew and subsequent ban on the operation of commercial bike riders, popularly known as ‘okada’. Whether those arrested were tried in court remains a huge doubt in the minds of Sierra Leoneans.

The ironical part of the story is that the northern districts of Port Loko, Bombali, Tokolili, Kambia and Koinadugu have recorded more cumulative cases than Kailahun, Kenema, Kono, Pujehun, Bo, Moyamba and Bonthe in the south-east, where the Ebola virus first reared its ugly head in the country.

Accordingly, as at 9th November 2014, Kailahun, where the index case of Ebola virus was reported in the country, had recorded cumulative cases of 558. Kenema, another former epicenter district, registered 490, Kono 46, Bo 193, Bonthe 2, Pujehun 28 and Moyamba 135. Meanwhile, Bombali, which experienced the Ebola virus relatively recently, has so far recorded cumulative cases of 647, while Port Loko, Kambia, Koinadugu and Tonkolili have recorded 596, 52, 48, and 261 cases respectively.

I reckon the above alarming rate of new infections in the north of the country must have prompted the president to ‘threaten’ local authorities in the northern part of the country that they would be dethroned should they continue to be negligent and complacent in the fight against the dreaded Ebola Virus.

The increase in the number of ‘new cases’ in northern Sierra Leone must have been as a result of lawlessness, as Paramount Chiefs seek refuge in lethargy, thus encouraging their subjects to breech the ‘Public Health Emergency Orders’. There were breeches of the ‘Public Health Emergency Orders’ in districts earmarked as hotspots and quarantined by the government.

Such might have emanated from the perception that because the president hailed from that part of the country, people can do whatever they want, even at the expense of their own lives.

It is no magic that the scourge is being drastically reduced in the south-eastern part of the country. This is because traditional authorities are serious about eradicating the disease, despite their initial pitfall.

The Western Areas – Urban and Rural – have continued to present the worst case scenario. As at 9th November figures, they jointly recorded cumulative cases of 778, while its sister – the Western Area Rural – has recorded cumulative cases of 601.

Residents of the Western Area are as lawless and naïve as the words. It is in the Western Urban Area of Freetown that taxi drivers have a field day flouting the ‘Public Health Emergency Orders’ at night. In the absence of Traffic Police Officers at night, passengers cram themselves in taxi cabs almost on a regular basis.

In Freetown, people attend burial processions and ‘rub skin’ with one another.  Also, in Freetown, people frequent bars at night, knowing full well that they are doing the wrong thing.

How can the Ebola Virus Disease be contained when people are not ready to do the right thing in their isolated corners? Are we helping government in fighting away the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease in the country?

I do not think the love I have for my own life and family can be compared to the love I have for Manchester United in England. I couldn’t be very urgent going home after work, not to talk about my several alternatives, as to cram myself in a taxi cab at the expense of my life and that of my family.

On several occasions on my way home, I have confronted issues regarding overloading by taxi drivers and many would remark that ‘na way you bread butter’.

But my frustration is with the police who show scant honesty, if any, in this mighty fight against the Ebola Virus. Instead of arresting and prosecuting those found guilty of flouting the ‘Public Health Emergency Orders’, they would rather accept petty bribes from them and let them go scot-free. It would be interesting to note that few of those arrested and prosecuted are the ones who refused to offer ‘kola’.

In sum, the difficulty in the fight against the Ebola outbreak is purely as a result of the incalculable lawlessness being manifested by citizens. Thus, unless there is paradigm shift from these lawless acts, all effort by the government and international community geared toward the fight against the Ebola Virus will continue being a mirage.

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