Letter from Sierra Leone – an ebola update

Manty listens to her radio as she works on her laptop. Photo courtesy of Manty Dabo
Manty listens to her radio as she works on her laptop. Photo courtesy of Manty Dabo

When friends are in difficulty, it is hard not to jump into action, whether they live next door or across the world.

Last month, a group of Revelstoke residents, concerned about reports from friends in Sierra Leone who were affected by the devastating ebola virus, organized a film and fundraiser at the Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre. With around 120 people in attendance, they raised $1,600.

A donation of $1,317 went to the international medical aid group, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF; ‘Doctors without Borders’ in English) for their work with ebola victims in West Africa. The remaining $255 provided gas for the generator of a radio station in northern Sierra Leone – enough five weeks of additional programming. The station, Radio Bintumani, provides critical news and information about the virus to the general population.

At the time of the fundraiser, the virus had not yet reached the northern district of Kabala. Now the northern districts are hard hit, making the donation to the radio station timely.

Because of the generosity of people in Revelstoke, we thought readers might be interested in an update. In Salmon Arm, Dr. Richard Currie, a five-time MSF volunteer doctor who participated in the panel discussion at the Revelstoke event, is organizing a similar event on Sunday, November 30th at the Salmar Theatre.

We are also sharing an update by our friend Manty Dabo, who was featured earlier in The Current. Dabo lost her sister-in-law, a hospital receptionist, to the virus. She now lives in Kabala and, through her role with the national elections office, is working with other agencies to respond to this emergency.

November 18, 2014

My dear friends,

You are wonderful people. I truly believe that you are friends INDEED. Thanks for the fundraising drive towards the containment of the ebola virus.

However, news from the ground is not encouraging. While the virus is gradually being contained in the south-eastern part of the country, it is rapidly spreading in the northwest. The World Health Organization has revealed that the virus is spreading nine times faster than two months ago in the rural areas of Sierra Leone and in the Western Area, comprising Freetown (the capital) and Waterloo, six times more cases per day compared to two months ago. Too distressing! We are weary and frustrated. (In November, daily counts of new cases reported ranged from 36 to 111 with most days ranging around 90 new cases in the country).

One more Sierra Leonean medic, Dr. Godfrey George of the Kambia government hospital, has succumbed to the virus. He died on November 2 at the Hastings treatment centre near Freetown. And yesterday an American doctor, Dr. Martin Maada Salia, who was attached to the government-owned Connaught hospital, succumbed to the disease. He was flown out of the country on November 15 on board a special flight to the US and died in Nebraska. As of now, six medical doctors have so far died from the disease and 144 health personnel have succumbed to ebola in Sierra Leone. The National Ebola Response Centre has approved $5,000 as a one-time death payment per health worker killed by ebola while in active service.

The President has been crisscrossing the length and breadth of the country engaging local leaders. He instructed the Paramount Chiefs to ensure that all weekly markets, traditional rites and assemblies are banned till further notice.

The National Ebola Response Centre has, in its daily updates, reported that the cumulative confirmed cases of ebola have reached 5,056 today 17th November, 2014. Alarming!!! Sierra Leone has now surpassed Liberia and Guinea in terms of the spread the disease.

There have been some robust moves by the government and its local and international partners. The Chinese government has sent in another 75 medics to help contain the disease. South Korea is sending medics to work in Kerry Town treatment centre near Waterloo. At the moment, the treatment centre at Hastings is doing an amazing job as the number of survivors is steadily improving. Awoko news reported last week that the centre treated and discharged 197 ebola patients between six to seven weeks of its operations. More than half of its admitted cases survive the disease. It is surprising to know that this treatment centre is all Sierra Leonean run. It is now been nicknamed, ‘Made in Salone’. The medics were trained on Ebola response by W.H.O. and other health organisations.

Meanwhile neighbouring Liberia, which was hardest hit, has lifted its state of emergency as the EVD infections drop down.

The National Emergency Response Centre (NERC) has re-strategized its operations to contain the virus. Last week its slogan was,’ Safe Burials Save Lives.’ This week it is, ‘Early Treatment.’

The Ebola crisis has affected every sector of society including agriculture, health, tourism, employment, trade, transport and education. Though schools are not functioning at the moment, the government, in collaboration with UNICEF, has introduced a radio teaching/learning program which is aired on radio stations right across the country. The program targets children in primary, junior secondary and senior secondary schools. Teachers teach different subjects by air and allow learners to send questions through text messages.

Meanwhile the Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs has launched the registration of all children who are survivors of EVD victims. The symbolic occasion took place in Makeni on the November 8. The aim is to support EVD survivors and also children orphaned by the disease. According to the Minister, the registration will be cascaded in other districts across the country. According to the Director of Gender Affairs in the ministry, Mr. Charles Vandi, at least 121 survivors have so far been identified and registered in the Bombali District alone.

Warm regards,