SEPTEMBER 23, 2014 By Murtala Mohamed Kamara
The 3-day lockdown which was declared by President Ernest Bai Koroma to help contain the deadly Ebola disease which has so far claimed more than 500 lives in Sierra Leone has come to an end. In a televised address on SLBC/TV on the eve of the lockdown, President Koroma explained why the country was under “one of the biggest tragedies that has befallen our nation”.
“My Government has declared a three-day stay at home (‘Ose-to-Ose Ebola Tok’) campaign to get this message to every house and family in the country. Everybody in every house in every community in this country is very important in our fight against Ebola,” he said.
The medical charity group Medecin Sans Frontieres (MSF) had earlier expressed concern that the exercise would jeopardize the trust between health workers and people and drive many infected persons underground. Christina Falconi, Country Director of MSF, was quoted as saying: “We support the idea of the increasing awareness about Ebola but we’re extremely concerned about the capacity.” Similar sentiments were shared by many people, whilst some argue that the process will not yield much as the country lacks proper systems to make the ‘House-to-House’ sensitization a success.
In a Facebook post before the shutdown, this writer stated emphatically that there was nothing wrong with a 3-day or 4-day or even 21-day shutdown, if that is what needs to be done to eradicate this deadly disease. But I was also concerned about the effectiveness of the whole process and the economic implications it may have on the country.
On day one of the ‘House-to-House’ sensitization, I decided to monitor the process and ensure its effectiveness. Although the general public complied with the stay-at-home, I realized most of the visiting volunteers came out late in the afternoon.
At Circular Road, I met a team of four volunteers and decided to go with them on the sensitization. They were very impressive; perhaps it is because of the level of education of members of this group. Their leader told me he is a Teacher at the Albert Academy Secondary School. Another member is a nurse. They were well informed about the disease and know how to pass on preventive messages.
On the same day at Wellington Street in central Freetown, I also met three young men clad in white Ebola T-shirts. I interrupted them and introduced myself to them, but realized they hardly knew their purpose and could hardly talk about Ebola.
There were lots of reports that some of the volunteers were not up to the task and could hardly transmit useful messages on the disease. There were even reports of some of the volunteers being dead drunk during the exercise. Many people complained that they did not receive any soap during the three days exercise, but some volunteers claimed people were removing the stickers placed in their houses just to get more bars of soap.
Although my general assessment of the volunteers was poor, journalists from the different radio programs performed extremely well. They complemented the effort of the volunteers by sensitizing their listeners on the different radio stations all across the country.
Moreover, the transportation arrangement during those three days was very remarkable. There were buses plying the streets of Freetown transporting volunteers and other essential workers from one point to the other, free of cost.
Also, the performance of the National Power authority (NPA) was amazing; the power provider supplied constant electricity in most parts of Freetown during the exercise. Their vehicle was also visibly active all over the city to rectify faults during the period. Thumbs up to NPA.
I realized also the emergency response for contact tracing was very slow. The 117 emergency numbers didn’t respond on time to emergency calls. For instance, at Monkey Bush, around Waterloo, a whole family reportedly died of the disease. Despite several calls to get the authorities to attend to the dead, there was no response.
For one family of five, the father got infected and died, followed by his wife. Ten days after, the eldest daughter, 10 years, who was caring for her younger sisters, also got infected. A Rev. Father decided to take the kid to the hospital after vomiting and bleeding. The girl died on the back of the pickup van whilst the two others were already infected.
There were reports of Police attacking and beating up people during the exercise. I was present around Connaught Hospital for instance when the Police patrol van stopped and arrested a cleaner who was working for the hospital at Lightfoot Boston Street. He was badly beaten, even though he had a pass. It was only after a call was made to the Inspector General of Police that the situation was halted. The I.G left his office and drove to the scene; he investigated the matter and asked the victim to make an official report to the CDIID for disciplinary action to be taken against the officers. He also warned his men to stop beating people.
Later that day, there was also report of arrests on several other streets across Freetown. I was also present at around St. John when Police officers arrested a man they claimed opened his shop. Most of the complainants maintained that they were arrested in front of their houses.
In Bo, there was report of people going out after 6:00pm on day one. Kudos to all those who supported the authorities by producing dead bodies and reporting cases of infected persons. Over 50 bodies were recovered during the exercise, report says.
On the final day, at 6:00pm, there were shouts of ‘Jesus’ all over Freetown. It was simultaneous just like the ‘salt water’ Ebola bath. I think the exercise was not a bad idea and we hope the authorities will learn from this and improve in other areas.
A state official was quoted to have said that Government was contemplating on an extension of the ‘lockdown’ to contain the disease, but the EOC says “the purpose has been achieved”. There is definitely the need for an extension but more emphasis should be placed on the volunteers; training and logistics.
For the sake of transparency, Government must also explain to the people what was the amount spent on this exercise and where.
One believes if we undertake this exercise again well, coupled with the existing international response which includes the UN Mission on Ebola, the U.S effort, China and Cuba, we will beat Ebola soon.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Murtala Mohamed Kamara is the Founder and CEO of SaloneJamboree, Sierra Leone’s foremost arts and entertainment magazine. He is a Curator for the Global Shapers community Freetown hub and President of Young Entrepreneurs Network Sierra Leone. He is an award winning Journalist, right activist and Media Entrepreneur. Kamara blogs about the arts, technology, youth issues and entrepreneurship and current affairs.