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My heart bleeds for SIERRA LEONE

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“Merry Christmas to you all from an Ebola-stricken nation, Sierra Leone, we will be celebrating the Christmas in our homes following a state declaration barring public gathering and outdoor celebrations including visiting the beaches. A very dull Christmas for us as a measure to stem the spread of the virus during the festive period.” This was the shocking message sent to us as members of a global online research network by a member from Sierra Leone which underpins the yearnings and plight of Sierra Leone. It provides a glimpse and a summary of not only a health challenge but a disease that has permeated the social life of citizens and deny them their fundamental right to socialize and interact especially during festive periods.

Another colleague of mine who hitherto was boisterous and ubiquitous in another online community, also a citizen of Sierra Leone is now so quiet and confine  to little development work from his home as the Ebola saga has deny him what he loves doing in organizing community events and social meetings to convey health messages. As Africans and development workers we must rise up to this challenge and continue to mobilize resources so that Sierra Leone can tame the spread of Ebola and support those who are infected and receiving treatment.

So far according to World Health Organization (W.H.O) a total of 18 569 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) and 6900 deaths have been reported up to the end of 14 December 2014 by the Ministries of Health of Guinea and Sierra Leone, and 9 December by the Ministry of Health of Liberia.

Also EVD transmission remains intense in Sierra Leone, with 327 new confirmed cases reported in the week to 14 December. While there are signs from the country situation reports that the increase in incidence has slowed and the incidence may no longer be increasing, the country reported the highest number of confirmed cases in epidemiological week 50. Transmission is most intense and persistent in the western and northern districts of the country. The capital, Freetown, accounted for 125 of all new confirmed cases. Other western districts reporting new confirmed cases include Port Loko (56), Western Rural Area (52), Bombali (23) and Kambia (11).

WHO, UN partners and the Government of Sierra Leone have implemented the Western Area Surge, an operation to intensify efforts to curb the disease in the western parts of the country. The response targets Freetown and neighboring areas to break chains of transmission, and increase the number of beds to ensure patients with clinical symptoms of EVD are isolated and receive appropriate treatment. WHO is training national surveillance officers, epidemiologists and clinical teams to staff new treatment centres.

W.H.O reported that in the country’s east, the district of Kono, which has experienced high EVD-activity for the past five weeks, reported 12 confirmed cases in the week to 14 December. The neighboring district of Koinadugu in the north-east reported 3 cases. Transmission has been intense in Tonkolili for the past 13 weeks. However, in recent weeks, the number of new weekly cases has declined from a peak of 56 four weeks ago, to 14 cases in the past week. In the south of the country, the district of Bo continues to report a high number of new cases (24 confirmed cases).

With respect to contact tracing and case finding an effective contact tracing ensures that the reported and registered contacts of confirmed EVD cases are visited daily to monitor the onset of symptoms during the 21-day incubation period of the Ebola virus.

In Sierra Leone, UNICEF continues to coordinate and support social mobilization activities across the country, especially with rapid response activities targeting districts of intense transmission and hard-to-reach areas. Strategies include street-to-street announcements, motorbike rallies and home visits to educate communities about safe and dignified burial practices, early referral and isolation, and home protection.

I was excited and happy by a news report which was initially carried on W.H.O website and reproduced by Health Reports. Titled “Cured of Ebola, Rebecca returns to cure others” was a positive story about  Rebeca Johnson, a Sierra Leone nurse who survived Ebola, it marked a return to work – and a new lease on life.

“I will take the work normally as I did before. I will wear the full Protection, but I won’t ever be scared again because I have immunity.” As Ebola survivor she told her story

Last weekend, as she prepared to return to work, she told her story to WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan and received a warm hug in return. “It felt good when she (Dr Chan) hugged me,” said Rebecca, “I really appreciate all you people who have come to help us.”

Now fully recovered, Rebecca always carries her hospital discharge certificate to prove her good health. “In my community, I am stigmatized and people talk about me. They say ‘there she is, she’s the one with Ebola,’ but I know I am safer than them.”

She vividly remembers the shock on her colleagues’ faces when her family brought her in, not to work, but to seek treatment. “It was hard for all of us, but thank God I survived.”

“I want Ebola to finish so we can get back to normal. My country is drowning – no schools, the economy is in ruins. It’s not easy.”

This is the kind of messages and stories that we should be reporting as we raise hope to the people of Sierra Leone and encourage and motivate them never to despair as we will surely get out of this Ebola saga.

1st published in Daily Trust  on 30th Dec 2014 by  Dr Aminu Magashi Publisher Health Reporters (healthweekly@yahoo.com)  




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