The situation in Africa is increasingly grave, as this correspondent makes clear

Editor’s Note:

Laura Stovel’s friend Manty Dabo, who was featured in a major story in The Current, was recently released from an Ebola Quarantine Compound in Makeni, Sierra Leone, where she had been for three weeks. As she observes in this letter to Laura, who forwarded it to us for publication, the situation in her homeland is increasingly grave.

We hope you find it instructive and that it will move you to attend the fundraising film, Ebola War, at the Performing Arts Centre on Saturday, October 18, at 7:30 pm. Admission is by donation and all funds will go to support the efforts of Doctors Without Borders in the hot zones of West Africa.

My Dear Laura,

The health situation in the country is declining despite the collaborative efforts of the government and its development partners.

The epicentres are now the Western Area, Port Loko and Bombali districts, with high increase in the infection almost every day. People are still tied on to their traditional practices of hand shaking, hugging and washing the dead. Infected people are running away to seek refuge to family members in distant communities, in the process infecting more people. Kabala (my work station) until Tuesday had 0 case of infection but unfortunately, had recorded 2 cases yesterday out of 6 blood samples sent for laboratory test. It was reported that an infected man bye passed from Sando Chiefdom in Kono district to his remote village of Fakoyia about 502 miles from Kabala. He died days later. So far, one person has tested positive.

Waterloo where my family lives is fast becoming an epicentre. Just last week a Muslim cleric who died of Ebola last week was given private burial. The Community Health Officer (CHO) had been administering treatment to him without referring him for Ebola test. In the process, the Imam’s family was exposed to the virus and hence not too long developed signs and symptoms and some of them succumbed to the disease. The CHO was taken to the Police to be investigated for issuing out a false death certificate and for putting people’s lives at risk. The Police station was then stormed by the health workers who threatened to down tools if their boss was not released unconditionally. Upon release, he was giving a standing ovation by his colleagues and the local community. Some days later, he fell sick and was tested positive for Ebola. He passed away last Sunday. Panic has now gripped the entire Waterloo community as his family, patients and colleague health workers who had come in contact with him are in great fear. The Members of Parliament are calling for Waterloo to be quarantined in order to break the chain of transmission.

The Ebola Virus Disease is becoming worrisome as according to the BBC World News today, more people are getting infested by the day and about 5,000 to 10,000 more will be infected by December this year; meaning the number is growing exponentially at a very faster rate. What a terrifying news bulletin!

Quoting the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security on SLBC news, ‘Hunger is slowly crippling in as almost 40% of farm crops in epicentres have been abandoned and left to wither.’

Isolated and quarantine areas like Makeni and Port Loko have no commercial vehicles plying the streets anymore. Traders’ goods and farmers’ produce are either losing value or left to perish. Perishable goods are cheap in rural communities because there have no access to the weekly inter-chiefdom/ inter-district markets where people use to sell and buy goods and services for weekly consumption.

According to a local tabloid, Awoko, the update for 13th October alone was 57 new cases. For the period 6th to 12th October there were 222 deaths and 362 new cases nationwide. The total number (cumulative) of confirmed cases nationwide as of 15th October 2014 is 2,979.

Nationwide, 123 health workers have contracted the virus, 97 of them have succumbed to the disease.

The President have in a statement appealed to the World Bank and other development partners for swift assistance as the country needs about 200 ambulances, 169 community Ebola care and holding centres, 1,500 more treatment beds, 5250 health workers (including 750 doctors and 3,000 nurses), to help contain the dreadful disease.

China has provided few mobile labs and Canada two mobile labs and 3 agency scientists. These developments though have started yielding good results as quite recently, 49 patients confirmed positive during the 3 days lock down have been treated and discharged from the Hastings treatment centre near Freetown.

About two weeks ago in Makeni, the Chinese mobile clinic came and tested blood samples of all the people in three holding centres in the municipality. The friends and families of those tested negative spontaneously took to the streets jubilating that Ebola is no more. Then the commercial bike riders follow suit causing chaos. The Mayor, the Resident Minister, the Police and other stakeholders held an emergency meeting and banned all commercial motorbikes indefinitely. This decision though caused a lot of strain on people and disrupted livelihoods particularly women’s as most of them are breadwinners either by de facto or de jure. However, the ban had been lifted last Saturday after several consultations with the stakeholders and the bike riders’ executive but with restrictions like not transporting sick people, riding between 7 am and 7 pm daily

I think the Ebola Virus Disease has a tendency to create civil unrest. It has impacted on people’s source of daily living as the majority of the population live on hand to mouth. Most business houses have either scaled down or closed down their operations due to low turnovers, hence increasing the already high rate of unemployment in the country.

People are not happy with the way Ebola victims are buried. According to reports, the bodies are not treated with respect as they are flung into the ambulances and rushed at breakneck speed to the cemetery. Then the body is dragged and dropped into the grave. This complaint had been coming from all around the country. The Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) has now engaged the burial team and it is beginning to change now. Families are now allowed to accompany the corpse to pay their last respect but from a distant location.

Ibrahim was involved in a week survey with a local NGO called Institute of Governance Reform (IGR) based in Freetown. The survey was titled the ‘Rapid Assessment of the Economic and Social Impact of the Ebola Virus in Sierra Leone’. It was designed to look at households as well as business entities (small, medium and large scale). The survey covered the entire country.

The investigations looked at the following issues:

  • Household Characteristics;
  • Awareness of the Ebola Virus Disease Crisis;
  • The Impact of Ebola on Economic Activities;
  • Access to Financial Services; and
  • Impact on Human Development services such as Health, water and sanitation, government, child welfare and wellbeing, and psychosocial concerns.

I was part of the survey team as supervisor for the Bombali district. There were 5 enumerators under my supervision. Each of them had 30 questionnaires to administer to households and 5 questionnaires for establishments in four chiefdoms in Bombali and one in Koinadugu districts respectively. Reports from the field will be shared with you courtesy of the IGR.

AS per discussion yesterday, it will interest you to note that presently in Sierra Leone, all activities have been centred on the containment of the Ebola Virus Disease. Hence all resources have been redirected to this fight, which seems to be a Herculean task at this moment.

But I strongly believe that we can either work with FAWE Makeni or Caritas Makeni but will engage them later. Of course I know FAWE’s niche is education but also does psychosocial interventions. Infact just last week the women supported quarantine homes with food items in Makeni and undertook sensitization of key messages on Ebola in remote communities in two chiefdoms in the Koinadugu district (Kabala). Caritas (catholic based organisation) also works on education, psychosocial support and other relief work. They in collaboration with CAFOD and CRS (all catholic organisations) support the fight against Ebola by providing food and non-food items to affected families.

Please send my warm greetings to your parents and the rest of the family, and to Zoe.

High regards,
Manty Dabo
Waterloo, Sierra Leone