Close to five years after Ebola was defeated in Sierra Leone, fears of the dreaded virus breaking out again in the country are rife. The virus may resurface in Sierra Leone as the country’s closest neighbour, Guinea struggles with it.
Reports say Guinea has recorded seven cases of Ebola virus, and more cases are expected to occur in coming days. The World Health Organisation is yet to declare the Ebola situation in Guinea a life-threatening one. Exclusive interviews with residents in Freetown show their fearsthey hold for the virus. Isatu kamara, a resident in Calaba Town expressed great fear about the virus as she still reels of its tragic effect.
Madam Kamara who once resided in a tiny village at the outskirts of Lunsar explained how Ebola took almost every member of his family.
“When it was announced that Ebola had entered Sierra Leone, I was a bit in doubt not until when my husband, three children and two dependants died out of it,” she recounted. Owing to the pain she encountered, Madam Kamara no longer saw it worthwhile to stay in the provinces, but to begin a new life in the city.
She has sent almostthree years in Freetown, looks emotionally stable. But her emotional stability has shaken to the core after it was reported that Ebola has reared its head again in Guinea. Another resident in Bo Musu Koroma too expressed similar fears.
She made reference to how Ebola entered Sierra Leone from Guinea in May, 2014 adding that hearing another outbreak of the virus is another big problem. Apart from fears expressed by residents in Sierra Leone, health officials have also shown how the country’s health system is frail and frolic. The health official who spoke to this press on condition of anonymity said the health sector was still confronted with a number of challenges.
The challenges, she said, appeared to be insurmountable despite many promises made by governments. The health official pointed out absence of protective gears, poor salaries, poor motivation, appalling conditions of service, deteriorating sanitary condition in health facilities among others.
These challenges, he said, had to be contained in an effective way to ensure an effective health system. The challenge of poor hygiene which was pointed out by the nurse led to a scuffle, few days back, between medics and MoHS (Ministry of Health and Sanitation) officials.
A doctor was allegedly physically assaulted by MoHS officials during a cleaning exercise at the country’s main hospital, Connaught hospital in Freetown. Accusing fingers are being pointed at the Deputy Minister of Health and Sanitation, the Permanent Secretary and the Chief Medical Officer for the alleged assault.
Reports note that the assaulted medic is now responding to medical treatment. In a show of solidarity junior doctors throughout the country down tooled few days back. They have one purpose in common: to see that those accused to have assaulted the medic resign from their offices.
Industrial actions and strikes by health officials are no strange occurrences in the country’s health sector. Sierra Leone has just emerged from a health workers’ strike few months back.
The health officials’ actions have hallmarked the health sector for years. The strikes show no sign of receding. The number of anomalies that continues to plague the health system creates a constant source of worry for the people of Sierra Leone. Recent investigation mounted by this press into Connaught Hospital Mortuary revealed that the country’s hospital system is far from sanitation and sufficient equipment.
It was an afternoon trip undertaken by this press meeting the morgue full to the brim.
Mourners were preparing to convey a corpse to its final rest. The sanitation around the premises compelled an interview with the head of the mortuary services at Connaught, Sinneh Dumbuya.
The interview with Dumbuyaexposed the negative side of the country’s hospital system. Dumbuya told this press that the morgue was in its most appalling conditions.
MoHS, he said, had made little effort to upgrade the mortuary in spite of the number of corpses littering the facility almost everyday. News of an Ebola outbreak came at a time the country struggles with another viral disease, Corona Virus aka COVID-19. It is reported that over a hundred people have contracted COVID-19, and thousands have been infected.
Hundreds of inmates are still in quarantine facilities while others have been discharged. The re-outbreak of Ebola virus in Guinea lends credence to the prediction of the Belgian scientist, Professor Peter Piot.
The scientist has claimed that Ebola does not attack a nation only once; it can attack a country in multiple times. African leaders must have capitalised on the prediction of Peter Piot by building strong health systems in their countries.
The Scientist was in Sierra Leone in December 2015 to help government in its response to the virus. Prof Piot held a public lecture at Miatta Conference Hall in Freetown where he explained about the origin and nature of Ebola virus.
Students of COMAHS (College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences), medical doctors and academics including the head of Micro-Biology and the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone, Professor Ekundayo Thompson benefitted from the lecture.
The Belgian scientist stated that Ebola Virus was strange and fatal. The virus, he said, was discovered in 1976 along the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
At the time he discovered the virus, he said, he convinced African governments to fund studies leading to the development of a vaccine against the virus.
But, African nations, Prof Piot said were not responsive to the demand for a vaccine.
Since the Ebola Virus broke out, local medics have made effort to develop a vaccine against the virus, but they are not there yet. Sierra Leone was struck by Ebola Virus in May 2014 claiming the lives of hundreds of Sierra Leoneans including medical doctors.
11 local medics succumbed to the virus including Dr Sheik Umar Khan, Sierra Leone’s only virologist at that time. The lives of about 300 nurses were also taken away by the virus, a big loss to the country’s health sector.
Sierra Leone still grapples with the effect of brain drain in the health system, a worrying system for a country with a weak health system. Former Minister of Health and Sanitation, Professor Alpha Tejan Wurie now Minister of Technical and Higher Education said Sierra Leone needed 3,000 medics.
To achieve that number, the Minister said, 100 nurses had to be trained every year.