Viral Resurgence in Sierra Leone: A Grave, Timely Warning

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It was last Thursday morning that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Sierra Leone, and by extension, neighboring Guinea and Liberia Ebola-free. That was exactly 42 days after Sierra Leone was cleared of its last Ebola patient. By that time Guinea and Liberia had already been declared Ebola-free.

Alas! The very next day yet another woman died of the virus—in Sierra Leone!

We are compelled to ask, what is going on? Why does this terrible virus continue its seemingly relentless, vicious haunt of the Mano River basin? Even Zaire, currently known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the virus first appeared in 1995, did not experience such viral stubbornness and persistence.

What is the problem? Is it our own carelessness that led us to relax too soon from the determined and rigid regimen (treatment, procedures) that we employed when the virus was raging, leading to a gradual defeat of it? Or was it something else?

Does that something else suggest that the droves of foreigners who came in to help us defeat the virus have suddenly found themselves idle and bereft of the lucrative allowances they enjoyed, even as they risked their lives in this dangerous environment? We prefer to think not, lest we run the risk of appearing ungrateful for their sacrificial services.

The same could be said of our own people in the Incident Management System (IMS). It could very well be argued that because so much local and international money was flowing their way, they would prefer a resurgence so that the stream of financial resources keeps flowing to keep them busy and flush with change.

But given the many of our doctors, nurses, paramedics and other Ebola workers who lost their own lives while trying to save others, we prefer to think that those in the IMS would not wish a resurgence.

So what is the problem? We ask again.

Rather than blaming others for our plight, let us first undertake self-examination to see whether we are doing everything possible to repel the virus by employing the same measures that enabled us to defeat it in the first place.

Take, for example what happened to the latest Sierra Leonean victim. She was a 22-year-old Muslim named Mariatu Jalloh who had come into contact with at least 27 people. These included 22 in the house where she died and five who were involved in washing her corpse. All of them could also be at risk.

Mariatu began showing symptoms at the beginning of the year, the report states. A student in Port Loko, the largest town in Sierra Leone’s Northern Province, she traveled to Bamoi Luma near the border with Guinea in late December.

Sierra Leone’s northern border area was one of the country’s last Ebola hotspots before it was declared Ebola-free. By the time she traveled back to her parents’ home in Tonkolili District, east of the capital Freetown, using three different taxis, Mariatu contracted diarrhea and was vomiting, the report said.

She sought treatment at the local Magburaka Government Hospital on January 8 where a health worker, who did not wear protective clothing, took a blood sample. It was not immediately clear whether the sample was tested for Ebola.

Mariatu was treated as an outpatient and returned home, where she died on Jan. 12. Health workers took a swab test of Jalloh’s body following her death, which tested positive for Ebola.

We narrate the details of this tragic story to show how our own negligence can lead to resurgence.

It is important for each of us in Liberia, in Guinea and Sierra Leone to learn about Mariatu’s story because it will help us to play well our individual parts in preventing an Ebola resurgence.

In all too many places in Liberia today, including some banks, the practice of temperature taking and hand washing before entering premises has been discontinued. We think this a grave mistake.

Now that it is confirmed that Ebola persists in our sub-region, we Liberians—and all Guineans and Sierra Leoneans—would do well to return to all the protocols we observed that finally defeated the virus. Our Muslim compatriots must say NO to body washing.

In addition, all our medical facilities should, for the foreseeable future, be on the alert and ready for any eventuality.

These are the least we can do to keep the virus at bay.

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