I landed in Berlin 24 hours ago after a very happy week at Terrytown, New York, where I joint a batch of fellow facilitators carefully selected by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) from our Intercultural Leaders Network, to underpin its staff throughout the UNAOC-EF Summer School 2014. The school targeted 75 youths from diverse countries, religions and cultures and it provided the participants and facilitators an opportunity to visit many beautiful parts of New York including the Central Park, Manhattan, United Nations Headquarters and more.
Immediately I landed yesterday at Tegel Airport in Berlin, I began thinking about the current plight of Sierra Leone, where I was born and raised and how I can contribute to the ongoing fight against Ebola, the most dreadful virus in our life time. I know that there is no place like home. Though I'm not regular in churches and mosques, I strongly believe that activities are rewarded by God according to the motives behind them. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to inform everyone that I have decided to fly to Sierra Leone first week September after dispatching a 40 feet container from Berlin. Onboard the container shall be a used field van, IT equipment, 54 hospital beds and assorted medical equipment. My greatest hope is that the hospital beds and medical equipment can contribute to the fight against Ebola and other diseases in Nyawa, Nongowa, Small Bo, Langura and Malegohun Chiefdoms in Kenema district where Youth in Action for Development (YAD) and Fambul Tik e.V are active. The IT equipment are intended to be used to equip our multipurpose digital facility (library, desktop publishing, IT training) in Kenema. I shall be bringing you more detail on that in this column in due course.
Meanwhile, currently ranked 183 in the UNDP’s Human Development Index with 75% of the youth population jobless, the Ebola epidemic has just added more sore to an old wound for many Sierra Leoneans. The disease has proved to be the most dreadful experience in our life time and its negative impact is devastating for many citizens – especially the youth, women and children who live in the rural areas. Many compatriots I have spoken to about Ebola preferred the civil war to Ebola because they knew who and what they were running away from during the war. Unlike the Ebola, no one knows when, where and who it will attack next. And whenever it attack someone, his/her entire family would be plunged into an endless social and psychological nightmare. For Ebola patients are quarantined and are not visited by relatives; the deaths are not buried in the usual religious, cultural and traditional manner; survivors are stigmatized in a community they were once proud of themselves.
The most affected districts, Kenema and Kailahun, have been quarantined with the inhabitants placed under a down to dusk curfew enforced by armed police and soldiers. Primary, secondary and tertiary institutions of learning are now closed. Vehicular traffics to/from the quarantined regions have been halted, which has led to dramatic increment in prices of essential commodities and services. Government civil servants in Freetown, who usually arrived at work very late, have now taken advantage of the situation to work even lesser hours thereby crippling the central government. While some airliners have adjusted their flights to Sierra Leone, some have stopped totally. Many business establishments have slowed down activities; some have even packed and left the country. The above has plunged the country into an economic quagmire from which it might not recover for years.
However, as a young citizen with great dreams and expectations, the above phenomenon forces me to ask many questions that I know only an honest compatriot who is religiously, ethnically, culturally and politically unbiased can attempt to answer: do you believe in laboratory test results issued during the first two months of the outbreak? Do you think the government should be praised for besieging Kailahun and Kenema cities? Do you believe in Ebola updates, facts and figures which are regularly published by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation through news outlets including Critique Echo Newspaper? Do you think it fair for the government to declare Kailahun and Kenema cities Ebola epicenters and quarantined the inhabitants without any emergency supports? Do you think the security personnel should be thanked for enforcing curfew on Kenema and Kailahun? Do you think philanthropic donations and donor funds dedicated to the fight against Ebola are handled honestly? Do you think Miata Kargbo still has the moral ground to parade in the streets of Freetown as a Minister of Health? Do you think it right for government workers to work only few days in the week and 4 hours per day because of Ebola? Do you think it right to shut down learning institutions and public gatherings because of Ebola?
As for me, answer to the above questions is a big NO and I will tell you why, if you continue reading this piece.
The lab tests
I don’t think those tests were true. We all know that the Kenema Government Hospital lab was only equipped for well-known hemorrhagic fever tests with special emphasis on Lassa fever, typhoid and malaria which are common in the country. It’s therefore logical why the lab had no Ebola test equipment. This is simply because Ebola remained an unknown sickness in the entire West Africa till December last year when it broke out in some remote villages in neighboring Guinea. So our health department couldn’t have installed an Ebola test lab in Kenema prior to the outbreak, except otherwise the outbreak was premeditated. Even the health workers didn’t have any knowledge about Ebola, which is why a lot of them succumbed to it at the initial stage.
Can’t you sense the rapid decrement in the number of new cases detected after the arrival of true Ebola test equipment and professional medics? I don’t even think there is any decrement in the disease; I think the arrival of foreign experts with (true) test equipment has enabled the labs to distinguish Ebola from malaria and typhoid. I also believe that those who really contracted Ebola have died and the survivor stories are manmade. Perhaps the actual figure is even 3 times more than the official figures.
Can the government be praised for besieging Bo and Kenema?
Yes, the government can be praised for taking some drastic measures in the fight against Ebola. However, I don’t think besieging those cities are responsible for the drastic decrement in the number of new cases. I think the best weapon against Ebola is knowledge and awareness. The ordinary citizen should be sensitized to know how to prevent themselves against the disease. Is it not ironical to see the quarantined cities (Kenema and Kailahun) recording low figures while unquarantined areas record higher? If everybody in Kenema and Kailahun were infected, wouldn’t they be dead by now? What if those who contracted the disease in Kenema and Kailahun have all died? The fact is that those in unaffected parts of the country think they are safe and are less sensitive about prevention. Unlike Kenema and Kailahun who have seen, smelt and tasted the bitterness of Ebola, have become more sensitive about it. This is why the infection rate has decreased. The higher the sensitization and usage of true Ebola detection machine, the less the infection rate. If the government is depending on besieging cities as the best strategy, they are going to end up besieging the whole country.
In addition to the above, apart from the fact that Ebola was deliberately imported into Kenema by the government due to lack of lab facilities in Kailahun and proper knowledge about the disease, I think it unfair for the government to quarantine the whole Kenema and Kailahun cities simply because they have Ebola epicenters in their communities without any special provision for the ordinary inhabitants. As a matter of fact, most of the deaths recorded in Kenema over the past weeks are imported cases from other parts of the country including Port Loko and Freetown Western Area. If inhabitants of the two eastern cities are to suffer for the whole country, the government should incentivize them considerably. Unfortunately, regardless the hike in prices of basic commodities as a result of artificial road blocks mounted by the government, the government is only considering households that are directly affected or infected by Ebola.
Do you think the security personnel should be thanked for enforcing curfew on Kenema and Kailahun?
Everyone knows that our security personnel are the worst betrayers of public confidence. While they pose in kaki camouflages with the nation’s crown on their foreheads, everyone of them has his/her own selfish agenda. We experienced it during the war when roads leading to strategic cities were blocked by the rebels. We saw the police and soldiers collecting money from businesswomen and private citizens for freedom of movement in their own homeland. Information filtering into this outlet has revealed that the same game is in the making now at various checkpoints in and around Kenema. We have learnt that business people are buying their ways into Kenema city with essential commodities which they turn to sell double of the usual cost on the local market. A curfew imposed in the name of Ebola has become a fortune for securities.
It’s also believed that relatives of security personnel are being given free passage through the road blocks, while other citizens are not allowed. If the current Ebola was really contagious like the one in the then Congo Zaire which killed up to 90% of it patients, our security personnel have the tendency to destroy the whole nation through their biased service and lack of loyalty to the ordinary taxpayers.
Do you believe in Ebola updates published by the Ministry of Health?
As a development volunteer, I’m trained to mention facts and figures as they are, no matter how devastating the effects might be. I know that inconsistency in facts and figures could lead my funders to question the integrity of my projects. Taking that into consideration, I have every reason to question the integrity of Ebola updates from the Ministry of Health and sanitation because some of the figures are indigestible and unrealistic.
When Ebola first broke out in Kailahun and Kenema districts, it took the health ministry several weeks to publicly accept its true existence. Number of patients and fatalities were downplayed. Those who rang earlier bells about it were branded as newsmongers and trouble makers. Nurses who lost their lives fighting the disease were referred to as reckless health personnel who slept with Ebola patients. The Health Ministry only began publishing cooked up facts and figures about Ebola after doctor Khan’s infection and untimely demise which coincided with infection of the two American doctors in neighboring Liberia. This was so because the central government thought public admission of Ebola could expose their ineptitude and impotence to handle critical national matters. In addition to that, the disease broke out in opposition territories from where the government can hardly trust information.
As the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a 200 million dollars funding plan to fight Ebola in West Africa, our health ministry began announcing higher figures of Ebola infections and fatalities including breakdown by districts. This was the first time we knew that the disease was already killing around the seat of power including Freetown and Port Loko. It was quite obvious that those figures were announced for WHO’s attention. It sounds like “I deserve a lion share of the Ebola funds” because I have more cases.
It’s very logical to start seeing now decrement in the figures because one would like to ask: after all the donations and donor interventions what is the impact so far? Isn’t it?
Do you think donations and donor funds dedicated to the fight against Ebola are handled honestly?
It’s no news that since the unsent of Ebola outbreak in Kailahun and Kenema, politically motivated citizens have been using it in many ways to harmer home their political agendas. While some are using the situation as a get-rich-quick scheme of breathtaking simplicity, others are using it as a political opportunity. The ruling APC began it by taxing government ministers to donate their salaries to what they called Ebola consolidated funds which they later allocated on political lines to Ebola sensitization groups that hardly existed before the outbreak. It was soon proved that some people received it and did nothing to fight the dreadful virus. This is because they viewed it as a political compensation for sympathizing with the ruling APC.
According to figures received from the Ministry of Health and Sanitation yesterday, the total number of cumulative confirmed Ebola deaths is 333 and cumulative number of confirmed cases is 881 with Kailahun 417, Kenema 303; Kono 1; Kambia 1; Bombali 17; Tonkolili 10; Port Loko 47; Pujehun 5; Bo 33; Moyamba 9; Bonthe 1; Western Area Urban 26; Western Area Rural 11. Koinadugu district still remains the only district that has not registered confirmed cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone.
Ironically, the recent allocation of Ebola preventive funds has proved again the unfair nature of those in charged it. If Kenema and Kailahun districts, the main epicenters which are currently besieged by Ebola can be given Le 509,100,015 and 524,100,000 respectively which is far lower than what was given to other districts that are not affected by the disease, what can you expect from (we) the citizens of the affected areas? Even if the fund is allocated according to population the two districts still deserves more. Or is this why the health ministry is playing with the Ebola infection figures on a daily basis like a class one math? It must be noted that the disease still remain incurable hence no vaccine or medication. The million dollar questions which only God can answer are: what is the funds going to be used for in districts that have only 1 Ebola case? Do they intend to use this funds at all on Ebola prevention?
As I see jobless youths scrambling to join the Ebola burial team in order to earn their daily breads regardless the contagious nature of the disease, I keep asking myself whether they hope to see a final end to the disease. The same question goes to those in charged disbursement of the Ebola funding. As they continue to cook up figures in order to keep their individual ports boiling, do they hope to see the Ebola end right now? A national poison has become bread and butter for few people.
The above gives me a strong reason to deliver to my own people in person the hospital beds and medical equipment onboard our 40 feet container. Those items are donated by German philanthropists who trust and respect me. I need to deliver them and bring positive feedbacks including media clips. Remember, one good turn deserves another…
Do you think government workers should work less because of Ebola?
It’s a usual habit of civil servants in Sierra Leone to show up at work when they wanted. I think government should only leave them to do as usual. Because allowing them to work few hours per day would only grant them the right to stay home permanently. What is ironical however, is the fact that the ordinary citizens expect them to help stop Ebola. Now that they are staying home, who is going to fight against Ebola? It must be noted that foreign experts who arrived in the country since the unset of Ebola outbreak are working 24/7 to combat the disease. Does it make any sense for the government workers to stay home while foreigners are at work to save the nation? Do we think a government worker who is occupying an air-conditioned four corner room in Freetown worth more than a foreigner who is risking his/her life at epicenters in Kenema and Kailahun? How do we expect the country to recover from the economic nightmare caused by Ebola? By magic? You think about it…
Do you think it right to shut down learning institutions and public gatherings because of Ebola?
Yes, I think it right to close some unnecessary gatherings as a precaution to combat Ebola but I don’t think it sensible to shut down learning institutions and essential public gatherings. Instead, I expect the government to use them as an opportunity to sensitize the youth about Ebola. We go to schools and colleges to learn what we don’t know. Why not use the Ebola funds to train college students to serve as an auxiliary force to disseminate preventive information in schools and colleges? They could also serve as Ebola sensitization mobile teams who can popup in religious congregations, public gatherings in villages and slums to preach preventative messages to the poor citizens. If the government is really serious about stopping public gatherings, why are Muslims and Christians still gathering in Churches and mosques praying against Ebola? I don’t think any gathering can be huge in Sierra Leone like Muslims and Christians can do in Churches and Mosques. I bet everyone that most Sierra Leonean rural dwellers still don’t know how to prevent themselves from Ebola because they don’t have access to the information outlets currently used by the government.
Do you think Miata Kargbo should remain a Health Minister?
The Ministry of Health and Sanitation has been and still is the donors darling in Sierra Leone. It’s one of the government organs that receives lion share of donor funds every year. One would like to know what is being done with all the funding received. Why are the health workers less informed, poorly trained and ill-equipped? Why is there no emergency medical response mechanism in a tropical climate that expects outbreaks such as cholera at any time? In the year 2012, there was a cholera outbreak in the country which claimed more than 300 lives. The current Ebola outbreak didn’t occur unexpectedly. It happened in neighboring Guinea for months before crossing the border to Sierra Leone. And when it broke out in the far east, it was the lack of emergency response mechanism and lackadaisical attitudes of the health ministry that has exacerbated it. Though I’m a strong supporter of female empowerment and gender equality and I love to see women in high quarters, I think there are other women in the country who are capable enough to serve the purpose. But Ms. Kargbo’s performance is nothing worth mentioning in history. She has totally failed to protect women and children who are in desperate need of help. If Chung Hong-won, the former Korean Prime Minister could resign after a ferry disaster that was never his fault, why should Miata Kargbo still remain a Minister after such an awful failure to protect the poor citizens?