UNMEER SRSG lauds school reopening in Sierra Leone


- says country is set to defeat Ebola

April 20, 2015

Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed (right), Ms. Bintou Keita (middle) and other Ebola response coordinators meet with some survivors at Hagan Street, Freetown
Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed (right), Ms. Bintou Keita (middle) and other Ebola response coordinators meet with some survivors at Hagan Street, Freetown

The Special Representative of the UN Secretary General (SRSG) and Head of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, has welcomed the reopening of schools in Sierra Leone as a sign that the country was returning to normalcy.

Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed acknowledged that all schools may not reopen at the same time. However, he encouraged teachers, communities and parents to educate children on Ebola prevention protocols. “Children can be great social mobilizers,” he said.

Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who was on a two-day visit to Sierra Leone with the World Health Organization’s Assistant Director General, Bruce Aylward, thanked the government, the UN-system, particularly the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), for making the schools safe again.

UNICEF trained some 9,000 teachers in Ebola prevention, safety guidelines and psycho-social support and provided 24,300 hand washing stations and cleaning equipment, which are being distributed to about 8,000 schools.

In a subsequent radio interview, Sierra Leone’s Ebola Crisis Manager, Bintou Keita, expressed satisfaction with the turnout of students on the first day of school and hoped that more students will resume class in the coming days.

Ms. Keita maintained that even children who were not in school before the Ebola outbreak could also now get enrolled. “Investment in children is investment in the future of the country,” she said.

Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed, Ms. Keita and Mr. Aylward also visited the Ebola Response Centers in Kambia and Port Loko districts and Western Area where they were briefed on efforts at achieving and sustaining zero transmission.

The SRSG said that Sierra Leone was on the right track to defeating Ebola. “I must say that the fundamentals are in place. Transmission used to be in double digits but now we are having single digits,” he observed.

Ebola transmissions in Sierra Leone are now confined to Kambia and Port Loko districts as well as the Western Area, which includes Freetown.

Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed warned against two factors that could inhibit success. The first is when EVD deaths are not coming from contact lists, and the second is when people with symptoms report late. “I must emphasize that if people who have symptoms report early, their chances of survival are higher,” he said.

At the centre in Port Loko, Mr. Aylward said that the period when everyone is fighting to achieve zero transmission could be very difficult. “It can be depressing, it can be demoralizing, but don’t give up,” he beseeched response workers. “If it appears to be quiet, it is not a sign that everything is under control. Capabilities have to be sustained,” added Ms. Keita.

Port Loko recorded zeros several days preceding the visit of the top UN officials.
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Although there is still transmission in Kambia, the delegation was informed of a significant reduction in deaths from quarantined homes.

“We are very impressed with your plan,” noted Mr. Aylward who, together with the SRSG and the ECM, called on communities to take ownership of the Ebola fight.

In the Western Area, 608 persons in 181 households are currently under quarantine, the UN officials were briefed. However, 5 households comprising 21 persons had just completed the 21-day quarantine period, and more are expected to be released soon.

Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed and Sierra Leone’s UNMEER Emergency Crisis Manager, Ms. Keita, also visited Hagan Street market in Freetown to inspect a public toilet disinfection project scheme funded by UNMEER’s Quick Impact Project. The virus was contained in the densely populated community due in part to the disinfection.

Speaking to the youth involved in the project, the SRSG said: “We are so close to defeating Ebola that we cannot let the success we are getting slip off.” He said the international community would assist but that Sierra Leoneans will have to make the difference. “That is why I am very happy with your efforts in this community.”