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Salone CSOs storm U.S. Congress

…demand Ebola drug for dying compatriots

By Mohamed Massaquoi from Washington DC

Some civil society organizations working with the Open Government Partnership (OGP) on Thursday (14 August) stormed the United States House of Congress to witness a Special Sub-Committee hearing on the ongoing Ebola outbreak in Africa, organized by the House’s Foreign Affairs Committee.

Director of OGI, Madam Khadija Sesay, said OGP members witnessed the hearing in order to get firsthand information about the concern of the U.S. government about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Madam Sesay called for frantic efforts by the U.S. government to immediately address the crisis, using available resources, including drugs, to save the lives of Sierra Leoneans.

“We wouldn’t mind if our people can be used as Guinea pigs to test the available drug for Ebola. Our people are dying unnecessarily, I know there are a lot of protocols regarding the use of new drugs especially when it is yet to be tested on human binges, but this is needed to serve humanity. Our people are suffering, this is the time our international partners should put every effort to address the situation,” she said, while talking to some Congressmen and the Foreign Affairs Minister of Liberia.

Congress members interrupted their August recess to hold a hearing on the critical issue and to hear important testimonies from disease experts.

U.S. Congressman Chris Smith, representing New Jersey, said there are serious concerns about Ebola, which is currently ravaging lives in the three West Africa states of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

He said Congress was concerned about the current outbreak in West Africa, including some of the potentially powerful drugs that could overcome this horrific disease that has a very high mortality rate, adding that the United States needs to increase its funding to prepare for pandemics like Ebola, which deserves greater attention from the world.

“Ebola had been thought to be limited to isolated areas where it could be contained,” he told members of the sub-committee.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Bureau of African Affairs, Bisa Williams, said it’s difficult to stop the virus from spreading beyond some African countries, especially since some were faced with growing security problems.

“Border control and other factors key to checking Ebola spread also are challenging for the countries in this region,” she said.

After the hearing, Ken Isaacs, Vice President of Program and Government Relations for Samaritan’s Purse, elaborated on his testimony:

“I don’t want to speak to the politics of the administration or anything like that, but I was clear in my statement today that the response has been a failure. If it wasn’t a failure this hearing wouldn’t be held, you wouldn’t be asking me these questions, these people wouldn’t have died and the disease wouldn’t have jumped to Nigeria,” Isaacs said, noting that the U.S. government has been extraordinarily helpful in helping address the Ebola situation in West Africa.

The group also organized town hall meetings with Sierra Leonean communities in the U.S. to mobilize both financial and human resources for the people of Sierra Leone.

Most of the health practitioners from Sierra Leone in the U.S. have volunteered to comeback and help their colleagues in the fight against Ebola.

Dr. Austin Demby, a Sierra Leonean who works as  Deputy Principal PEPFAR at U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said it was important that Sierra Leoneans came together to share ideas as to how Ebola could be eradicated in the country.

He said contact tracing and accurate information among communities are significant in the fight against Ebola, adding that the role of Paramount Chiefs and other local authorities in the fight against the disease cannot be underestimated.

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