Following the deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus from neighbouring Guinea, through Koindu, Kailahun District, Eastern Sierra Leone, it appears as if stress is becoming visible in the conduct of every Sierra Leonean on a daily basis, due to the destructive nature of the virus which got it way into Sierra Leone as a result of negligence one the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL). Yes, it is a complete negligence on the part of the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in particular, under the current leadership of Madam Miatta Kargbo.
In the last edition of this column, I stated thus: “If truth is to be told, history has repeated itself in Sierra Leone. In that vein, let us allow The Voiceless Sierra Leoneans to recall, especially during the 1980s under the then All People’s Congress (APC) regime, led by the late President Joseph Saidu Momoh. During that time, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) launched a destructive rebellion in Liberia. That rebellion, headed by the international war crime convict, Charles Gangay Taylor made its maiden attack in the Bon County, South of Liberia, all in a bid to unseat Samuel K. Doe, who was later killed by Prince Johnson. As the situation got horrible, Liberians came to Sierra Leone as refugees through Nyeyama and Bomaru town in the Kailahun District. Unfortunately, while Liberians were crying in pain some Sierra Leoneans were happily asking: Do Rebels Have Tails? The APC government then, of the handpicked Brigadier Joseph Saidu Momoh did nothing to repel or prevent the rebel incursion in Sierra Leone. That negligence on the part of the Government resulted into a rebel war in the early 1990s, which today have devastating effects with negative implications on every life and sector”.
Apparently, it is more than a decade now and as the former United States of America Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld puts it: “History is a clear guide to the future.” If this is so, then similar negligence has been demonstrated again, this time around in May 2014, under the leadership of President Ernest Bai Koroma.
According to Moses Massa, in one of his recent articles on Ebola…“the lessons learnt are as follow: Irresponsible government; Reactive than proactive President; We have some incompetent and unshakable Ministries; Civil Society is becoming redundant”.
Massa said the event surrounding the death of our many innocent Ebola victims if scripted well, could make a blockbuster movie. But the death of Dr. Sheku Umaru Khan, he went on, painful as it is to his family, the nation and friends, is a watershed moment in this Ebola fight. He stated clearly that it is obvious that the death of this selfless individual, Martyr or hero as we now call him, has made many a cynic the insouciant establishment to boot up and take some of the overdue but necessary combative measures.
So the question is: What if our only virologist, Dr. Khan had not died, would the ruling government have not acted or the doubters remained in doubt?
Unfortunately, so much time and money was spent by some proxy within the APC Party to spin the irrational, caustic and frenetic idea and slogan of ‘AFTA U NA U’ into our gullible people for a so called Third Term Agenda. This Government was slow to respond and the effect of this early irresponsiveness, tinged with lies by some key government officials is greatly affecting us all as a nation.
After the Presidential address, I was opportune to be invited by Dwight Neal of AYV radio to critically analyze President Koroma’s address. I was invited at the AYV studio on Siaka Stevens Streets together with Unisa Deen Sesay, the Communication Director at State House. Dwight Neale was the Moderator for the program: ‘Issue of The Day’. Luckily, the National Coordinator in the office of the Government Spokesman, Abdulai Baratay, was part of the program although he made his own contribution via mobile phone.
After introducing the topic to the audience, I became the first speaker and my position still remains the same. I blamed the government for the rampant spread of the Ebola virus and that our Medical practitioners are disappointment to the nation. The reason for the blame is that the government relied on the Medical Directors as well as the department of Disease Surveillance and Prevention Control to provide professional advise to the government for necessary actions to be enforced. Indeed their strategy was a failure and reason for the death toll to rise than expected.
It could be vividly recalled that when journalists and other meaning Sierra Leoneans, via phone-in programs and other publications were calling on the government through the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to mount huge monitoring and inspection mechanism or to even close our border with Guinea, such request was blatantly refuted. Some weeks later, it started killing meaningful Sierra Leoneans like the Community Health Officer (CHO) in Kailahun and Daru respectively. Even the Paramount Chief, Ngombu Gla Kallon lost one of his relatives.
Sierra Leoneans must understand that the single life of one Sierra Leone citizen is as important as the life of President Koroma.
Worsening as the situation remains, the information strategy devised by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation was very inappropriate, hence terrified suspected cases and victims from promptly reporting themselves to the nearest health centers. Additionally, other responsible governments such as The Gambia and Senegal closed their borders. In Guinea, it is not destructive like ours because it was not allowed to spread in big cities such as Conakry, Kissy Dugu and Khakan.
The wrong message by the Health Ministry made many Sierra Leoneans to hold the view that Ebola is a political gimmick by the ruling government. This notion faded out after the sudden death of the only Sierra Leonean Virologist, Dr. Sheku Umarr Khan, who contracted the virus.
In defense to the aforesaid national criticism, Abdulai Baratay during our radio discussion program said the criticism is unfair, adding that his government has worked hard to educate Sierra Leoneans and non Sierra Leoneans about how to prevent the spread of the disease and has declared a State of Emergency in the area where people have died as a result of the virus. Ironically, Unisa Sesay admitted on the same radio that the mistake has been made and the government is calling on all Sierra Leoneans to collectively help in the fight to combat the deadly outbreak.
On the contrary though, Bart Janssens, the Medical Group’s Director, who are working to develop prompt medication for the Ebola virus, said the outbreak is totally out of control and the Governments’ involvement and international organizations are not doing enough to combat it.
"So if (Doctors Without Borders) is now saying that the disease is out of control, then we all share the blame for it being uncontrollable," he said.
Invoking Section 29 (5) of the national Constitution of Sierra Leone Act No. 6 of 1991, President Koroma said all means of transportation to the epicenters of the disease will be restricted. The statement is aptly clear but the implementation is erroneous. Kenema and Kailahun districts have been blockaded as if the people were attacked by rebels. According to report, the AIG in charge of East, Alfred Karrow Kamara said they barricading of the two districts started on Wednesday 6th August, 2014 during midnight in order to combat the spread of the Ebola virus.
The questions that come to mind are: What is the government doing logistically to help sustain the State of Emergency? Who is going to provide food for the people in that part of the country? Why did the police prevent the local journalists from executing their sacred duty? The Voiceless Sierra Leoneans only hope the enforcement of the State of Emergency for 60-90 days will not be an option to harass and intimidate innocent civilians in that part of the country.
It is often said that it is better to late than never. No wonder, after the incessant spread of the virus, the government still takes pride in the late action as the right step in the right direction. Among other things, The Voiceless want to thank the government, WHO, UNICEF, MSF and other donor agencies for their support to help eradicate the Ebola virus.