By now every sierra Leonean of sound mind ought to have been traumatized several times over in the last three months even at the mere mention of the dreadful disease “Ebola”. As for me, I have died several times over (figuratively) from paranoia, not driven by a possibility error on my part to inadvertently and personally contract the disease, but more by frequent thoughts of unwittingly and unsuspectingly doing so through one of our grandchildren, over whom our direct supervision is occasionally lost several times in the twenty-four cycle of the day. Indeed such trepidations become enhanced each time they wander into our bedroom in the dead of night, their presence only noticeable from their body heat, as they snuggle underneath our cover sheets. Half asleep, we would apprehensively think _ “Papa God…..whodat dem way ya don mix with tiday oh wey im body wam so??”
Yet three months down the Ebola road, God remains in control, even as boys sweat profusely whilst playing their street football, or as rough neck Okada riders pillion hapless passengers, buyers and traders jostle each other in chocked market places and young children ply their single-tray trades. And it’s all happening within His normal scheme of business, because God does not work overtime. Thankfully, through much awareness raising, and an appreciation that the weaknesses in our healthcare services are as real as the Ebola disease, personal sanitation and hygiene practices have been commensurately enhanced both mentally and practically.
Barrier nursing at our health centers is being matched with “barrier” private relationships – including in romance. “Nor touch; nor handle”. Take no risks “old fire wood or not”. And in all of it, some spouses have emerged victorious. Interestingly though a married woman confessed to her friend that it is only through this prolong hours of his being home bound that she has came to realize how really ugly (wor-wor) her husband is all along. But if in the last three months of enhanced chastity no evidence of risks has presented themselves on the home turf, then why not quit all other relationships for good?
Indeed, even as the battle intensifies, hopeful signs continue to manifest themselves beyond the dark Ebola horizons. Knowing the true facts of the disease can save lives far more than the fear about it. So we all have an obligation to continue teaching others about those facts. The arrival of teams of professional health care givers from Japan, Canada, Britain, Canada and China, including the Me’dicins Sans Frontiers (MSF), World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and especially hemorrhagic disease control experts from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), to complement the efforts of a restructured Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and a much re-invigorated and now reasonably incentivized local resources. These are all hopeful signs that our resolve to finally put this tragic experience behind us will soon yield dividends. It has to be said that a reasonably incentivized local workforce will ensure that never again will our foot soldiers retreat or surrender from the battle front. In my view, it only remains for all such efforts to be properly co-ordinated and their actions effectively synchronized so as to achieve the desired effect of putting the enemy to rout. And that is important if the veneer of our hopes for a post EVD-free Sierra Leone should not dissipate, having regard for the many players are now making it hard for us to differentiate the charlatans yearning for political limelight from the sincere, and the retrogressive attitudes of a few in the discharge of their awesome responsibilities from the “Evacuating and Burial Teams” to the care givers at the Isolation and Treatment Centers.
The Evacuating Teams
The EVD is not man- made, hence like other ailments can befall even the most meticulous. It therefore behoves those called and chosen to be evacuating suspected victims from various locations to publicly demonstrate a more humane and dignified approach, instead of the menacing dread, fear and seeming hostility they now epitomize. The question is, couldn’t they do without wailing sirens and visible armed escorts to and from the residences of people already traumatized and too dumbstruck to resist? In basic medical therapy, confidence in the treatment regime accounts for over 50% of the patients’ successful recovery possibilities, but the present approach of the evacuating teams, indispensable though as their roles are, erodes all hopes of recovery, both for victims and loved ones left behind to be ultimately quarantined. And that is where the stigmatization begins.
The Burial Teams
Death, whether by EVD or not is also a natural phenomenon. Unlike previously held myths, even the corpses of EVD victims can now be properly disinfected and decently interred. Evidence of that exists. Accordingly to continue discarding EVD corpses as at present, to the accompaniment of wailing sirens and armed escorts moving at almost break neck speed, again indispensable though as their roles may be, mystifies the disease and further stigmatizes entire localities around cemeteries where the corpses are interred. And why should ambulances be used to ferry EVD corpses? This approach can be modified to elicit public interest and sympathy in the entire arrangement, through heightened sensitization so as to allay the fears of the community about the corpses. The Local council should play that lead role. Suffice it to say however that beyond that, government would need to be occasionally flexing its authority as a government indeed and especially under a “state of emergency” instead of capitulating to the whims of “area boys” posing as friends of the dead, whilst carving out huge swathes of cemetery lands within the Freetown municipality into freehold properties.
To me, the greatest of hopes beyond the dark Ebola horizons is the construction of more robustly equipped treatment centers at least one in each of the four regions of this country. This is because the patients’ confidence of being in contact with, and possibly receiving regular food and drugs replenishments from their loved ones can have tremendous positive impact on their recovery chances, instead of being kept incommunicado in some remote locations, until news of their ultimate demise is reported. And if I should reiterate, moving EVD patients into such remote localities and among unfamiliar faces which exposes to language and dietary constraints is by itself counter-productive, which could be further worsened by an unexpected announcement by some local “demi-god” that convalescent and recuperating strangers are no longer welcome in their towns, which in fact constitutes a part of the very country in which those sick patients purport to be holding citizenship. How heartless!! See how much work our politicians have in hand?
Our leaders know full well how dichotomized and tribalized we are, yet they like to pretend we are of “One Country and One People” (??). Put a hand up you Parliamentarian or Cabinet Minister from the North who if being tested EVD positive, would voluntarily and confidently move to Kailahun for treatment, or you Parliamentarian or Cabinet Minister from the East (more especially Kenema, Kailahunand Bo), that would conversely volunteer for treatment in the North. If none, then the need for more robustly equipped Treatment Centers in each of the four regions cannot be over emphasized.
Field Isolation and Treatment Centers
And for God’s sake if as H.E President Koroma himself has stated “extra-ordinary times demand extra-ordinary decisions”, then we need not wait until elaborate fixtures are built over three-month periods, even as existing holding and treatment centers become overstretched. When ECOMOG and UNAMSIL arrived under intense enemy fire to assist us during the war, neither waited until new buildings were constructed before commencement of their operations. Make shift containerized structures served the purposes of field offices and we are all witnesses of the outcomes. Could we not replicate that same expediency by setting up emergency Field Isolation and Treatment Centers using containers and Military Tents even as we are now caught up in another deadlier war? Or would we rather wait until the deluge in neighbouring Liberia replicates itself here?
And for the staff members at treatment centers engaged in the despicable practices forwarding pictures of dying patients with blood oozing out of their orifices through “whatssap” and other social media, I will respectfully draw their attention to a Hymn composed by Sir Joseph Barnby (1838 1896) and titled: “I Know Not What May Befall Me” and advise they desist from such forthwith. Period!!
By: Winstanley.R.Bankole Johnson
Monday September 15, 2014