Sierra Leone’s approach to eradicating Ebola in the country leaves a lot to be desired. They may need an earth shaking event to provoke them into taking substantial action and to stop the further spread of the disease.
The head of Ebola response at the World Health Organization, Bruce Ayward said,” Sierra Leone has the capacity to stop the disease during its record breaking outbreak with its infrastructure and well organized response capacity.
The problem is that its people have yet to be shocked out of behavior that is helping the disease to spread, still keeping infected loved ones close and touching the bodies of the dead.”
Aylward told Reuters, “Every new place that gets infected goes through that same terrible learning curve where a lot of people have to die … before those behaviours start to change.”
Liberia was able to meet the challenge of stopping and overcoming Ebola, while Mali and Nigeria were able to prevent any outbreaks. Seirra Leone, on the other hand, has been the source of 70 percent of new victims and holds the distinction of owning more than fifty percent of the 18,000 declared victims during the nine month epidemic.
The number of deaths according to WHO’s report has increased to 6,583. The real number may never be known due to unreported deaths.
The Ebola breakout in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, which quickly spread to western dominated areas was comparable to what happened last August in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia.
The panic that ensued caused by the Ebola outbreak and the bodies that were literally scattered around the streets brought the United States military to Liberia to help stem the disease by putting up treatment centers in the country.
Aylward said, “In Monrovia you had bodies on the streets, you had a riot, you had someone shot – awareness went through the roof in a very, very short time as a result
“You don’t want to see that kind of thing drive public awareness but it has an impact very, very fast. People changed behaviors in Monrovia – bang! Like that.”
Mali, in the same manner, got shock treatment and learned from it. The perception of everything being alright following their first Ebola case last Octoberwas suddenly tuned upside-down. Deaths started to rise by November.
According to Aylward, he discussed with the Malian officials the necessity of identifying potential carriers. This was the only way to stop the outbreak
“That’s when the contact tracing… took a jump from around 60-70 percent completion to 98 percent,” he said.
The inability to face the truth and ignorance of the facts coupled with the absence of a systematic health system and a lack of facilities made matters even worse.
Ayward said, “WHO staff are visiting neighboring West African countries to try to get people to change their ways in case Ebola strikes, but worry there has been little change in remote border areas”
“The forest area of these three countries has got some really special and concerning practices, where they share meals with the corpse, where they sleep with the corpse,” he continued.
“You know these are high, high risk behaviors.”
The deaths in Sierra Leone, which amounts to 365 may have something to do with their traditional system of burying their dead. Abu Bakarr Fofanah, Sierra Leone’s Health Minister, is planning to stop some of these practices but fighting tradition is a difficult task.
He has observed that in places like Kenema and Kailahun, the eastern region of Sierra Leone, the case of Ebola infection has slowed down due to people’s awareness.
“The areas that are now doing badly are the areas that were affected last. They are still on the learning curve.”