January 21, 2015 By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk) reporting from Bonthe
It may be suffering from acute government neglect, but Bonthe Sherbro Island is the only place in the entire Sierra Leone that has not recorded any Ebola confirmed case since the outbreak of the deadly virus in the country in May 2014.
Here the authorities confidently and proudly welcome visitors with open arms and tell them: “Move freely but obey the laws…Touch anyone and you’ll be free of Ebola.”
The District Health Superintendent of the Bonthe Government Hospital, Abdul Hameed Gamanga, sums up the reasons for their enviable status into two: God’s help and the remoteness of the island.
“It’s not entirely due to our effort,” says doctor Gamanga. “First of all it’s God’s work, and secondly it’s the remoteness of the town. People generally don’t want to come here. You have to be a healthy patient to come here; you’ll have to go through many screening points to get here.”
However, doctor Gamanga says if Ebola reaches Bonthe Sherbro Island a lot of people will die because of neglect of the town by the central government. He says they had requested for emergency ambulances for sea as well as land but are yet to receive any.
Bonthe Sherbro Island is the headquarter town of Bonthe District which comprises 11surrounding chiefdoms, but government’s focus seems to be shifting to the mainland Mattru Jong, which is easy to access by road. Along with other key government offices, the District Medical Officer (DMO) has relocated to Mattru Jong leaving the headquarter town on its own.
The more than 10, 000 people of Bonthe Sherbro Island are so poor that the local hospital is running an extended free health care service, says doctor Gamanga.
“The common health case here is hernia, and we get patients almost every other day,” reveals doctor Gamanga, adding that the people get too much pain working and fishing to survive.
According to doctor Gamanga it’s difficult to maintain operations without the help of non-governmental organizations.
Meanwhile, the entire Bonthe District has only recorded five individual confirmed Ebola cases since the outbreak, but the zero case status of the Island was tested last Thursday when the Bonthe Government Hospital admitted its first suspected case. The patient’s travel history shows that he came from Grafton, Freetown and his temperature was 40 degrees celcius.
“The good news is that he has proven a negative case,” says doctor Gamanga, “But that just explains our alertness about the Ebola situation. Nevertheless, we are keeping an eye on the patient.”
In addition, the Mayor of the Bonthe Municipal Council, Layemin Joe Sandi, says Bonthe District was the first to present a comprehensive Ebola status report to the Local Government Ministry. He says among the measures they put in place is efficient enforcement of the bye laws, shutting down of their economically thriving trade fairs, training health workers and guarding the seas.
“Our people said ‘No to Ebola!’” he says proudly.
According to official reports, there have been nearly 21, 000 reported Ebola cases and over 8000 reported deaths in the West Africa sub-region. In Sierra Leone the cases are about 9, 700 and 2,557 deaths, with more than 2000 survivors.
Note: This is a Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) sponsored reporting.