You could feel the sigh of relief and if you try a bit harder, you could palpate it as well. Imagine the number of “thank God”, “praise the lord”, “praise Jah”“ Alhamdulillah” that have been sweeping through dining rooms, staff rooms, bedrooms and internet chat rooms when it was realised that the deadly Ebola was “levelling off” in the country. Trying to contextualise the devastating effect of this deadly disease will not only be premature, but may sound like trying to re-invent the wheel. The news that places like Pujehun District have been Ebola free for over a month is relief beyond belief. There seems to be a general and welcome understanding that at last, there is hope in the horizon. Maybe, just maybe, sons and daughters in the diaspora can now pick up the phone with less trepidation, especially when the incoming call is prefixed by 00232….There is no denying that in months gone by, such phone calls generated feelings of expectations for the worst. It was common knowledge you could chat with someone today and be told of their demise the next day.
A lot has been achieved so far and there is more to be done. While it is welcome news that Mali has been declared Ebola –free, it is disheartening that health workers are still being attacked in neighbouring Guinea, where it all started, because some people consider Ebola a myth. Considering our proximity and interrelationship with our neighbours, this should be seen as a dampener on any optimism that may have been seeping through this gloom. One should always be worried if your neighbour’s house is engulfed by fire. Lest we forget, our hearts go out to all those selfless heroes and heroines who lost their lives to save others. The doctors, nurses, drivers, volunteers, donors, grave diggers, etc. who continue to put their lives at risk deserve our respect and support.
There is no doubt that there are visible signs of success in the drive to drive Ebola out of our communities. But in spite of the success to eradicate Ebola, we should not lose sight of the fact that sometimes, Success can breed complacency and complacency can breed failure. If anything, we are entering the most dangerous period of the battle to “conquer” the disease. There can be no let-up in our fight against this disease at this stage. The role of the social media in sensitizing and disseminating information on the subject has been vital. Although some may have used corrupted and adulterated versions, for obvious reasons to pursue their hidden agendas, the reporting has been relatively reliable.
Nevertheless many people, especially those in the diaspora have relied on making that long distance call to hear the running commentaries from surviving loved ones. Sometimes, this is where it gets unintentionally corrupted; as most of the information is sourced from the “Den Say Radio Station”. It was therefore not surprising when someone told me during one of my frequent telephone contact that “Den don announce say Ebola go don dis Mont don”. Translated? “They have announced that Ebola will finish at the end of this month”.
If ever you needed a dose of optimism and misinformation wrapped into one, look no further. Unconsciously, this kind of information or misinformation is inadvertent in both origin and intent. What it does reflect though, is relief, optimism and the latent desire to see the back of the disease; because no amount of scientific research or crystal ball can give such a definitive prediction. In such situations, the underlying issue here is the potential to generate a sense of complacency. This is a very crucial stage and we don’t want to dance ourselves lame when the main dance is yet to come. The main dance is how we remain vigilant in the face of complacency. We don’t want a George Bush-esque “Mission Accomplished” situation; God forbid. We don't want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls us all into complacency and dependence.
The hope is that with the massive gains made in the fight against Ebola, thanks largely to our donors, frontline indigenous staff, foreign volunteers and the tireless but stoic army of grave diggers who have the unenviable task of traumatically laying our loved ones to rest, WE SHALL OVERCOME. There have been a lot of traumatic, unpleasant and inconvenient adjustments to our way of life. Our cultures, social networks, family lives and values have all been tweaked, tested and threatened in one way or another. Our religious beliefs and faiths have been shaken, weakened and tested to the limits of temptations. Our social norms and the very fabrics that make us what we are as SIERRA LEONEANS have been put through the highest and toughest stress tests. We are now seeing some light in the proverbial end of the tunnel.
This is the time we should persevere to practise all those hygiene procedures that we have learnt during these testing times. If the fight against Ebola has ever been at its most critical stage, this is the time. When it all started, the fight against the disease was handicapped by the lack of infrastructure, misinformation, and ignorance, religious and cultural resistance, among others. The biggest threat that we are facing today, in the midst of all the successes, is that of complacency. To all those fighting directly or indirectly, we pray and hope that we conquer the Ebola. Bravo to all those brave men and women out there.