West and North Africa

Sierra Leone UK Diaspora responds to Ebola

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By Khadi Mansaray

On Thursday 10th July I was one of the panelists on a “Response to Ebola” event held by the Sierra Leone High Commission in the UK. Hosted by the High Commissioner, Edward Turay and chaired by London-based Sierra Leonean journalist Ade Daramy, the event was a really great initiative and brought Sierra Leoneans together for a serious cause. The focus was getting a reliable update on the crisis in Sierra Leone and brainstorming on how the UK Diaspora can help.

Dr Colin Brown from Kings Sierra Leone Partnership, an infectious disease specialist who had just returned from Freetown after three weeks as an Ebola advisor, was also a panelist. He gave a valuable update on the situation which confirmed what I’d learned earlier from Dr Robert Gary of Tulane University who is an epidemiologist at Kenema Government Hospital.

I cannot ignore the consistency of expert information and I take consolation in the fact that the survival rate is much higher than 10 percent which is set by health experts.

Another reassuring fact is that Ebola is not airborne, and simple practical measures and commonsense could go a long way to stop its spread. Although this gives some hope it doesn’t mean the problem is less serious and we shouldn’t become complacent. In fact we should become extremely vigilant and eradicate this from our land. Ebola is very infectious and can kill quickly. However it can be survived if the immune system overcomes it. The treatments involve helping the body do this. This makes early diagnosis crucial.

There are some significant things to note about this outbreak which make it different. Firstly Dr  Colin Brown in his talk said the current Ebola strain in West Africa presented differently from the one that hit Uganda even though they are the same virus. He said the early symptoms are very similar to some other curable and treatable diseases, making it harder to diagnose initially. This is also one of the reasons why it spreads so quickly.

According to Dr Mark Salter, experts and authorities including WHO and the Government of Sierra Leone believed they had it under control and underestimated the gravity of the problem. He also stated that this did not excuse the subsequent complacency.  Dr Oliver John’s blog gives a frank and honest account of how Ebola is being treated in Sierra Leone.

Understandably people are angry and upset at Government‘s apparent slow response and of course it could have been faster and better.  Prince Goba from the Kailahun Descendants voiced his disappointments and concerns and so did other members of the audience including Eric Lansana of the SLPP.

Prince Goba also explained what his organisation had done so far in dealing with the epidemic. Government representatives like deputy internal affairs minister Sheka Tarawallie and High Commissioner Edward Turay reiterated government’s commitment to the problem and that they had been engaged and been screening right from the start. They assured people that they were doing their best to deal with it. Ambassador Turay put his recent book on sale for £10 (usually £40) and the proceeds on the day were to buy and send aprons. One of the biggest challenges to overcome are the beliefs and attitudes that which I had written about in Mano River’s Ebola crisis.

It is estimated that the WHO spends £1.7m a month on the problem and it is likely to cost £12m by December. We can blame governments and point fingers or we can do something useful – collectively and as individuals.  The international organisations helping us are stretched and ultimately this is our problem. There were many suggestions as to how the Diaspora could help and these included pooling fundraising resources and community level sensitisation through local organisations and institutions. Fund-raising events were suggested and concerns were raised regarding the credibility of the organisations raising such funds. There were calls for unity and collaboration. In spite of all the challenges organisations were already being proactive and finding solutions. In addition to the Kailahun Descendants, The Organisation of Sierra Leone Healthcare Professionals Abroad, (TOSHPA) and Public Health England have put together an information sheet on Ebola for anyone in the Diaspora intending to travel. The Sierra Leone Emergency Ebola Fund was set up to help at a national level. Working with Citizen’s Ebola Response Drive based in Sierra Leone. Donations shall go to the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society and can be made on <paypal.com>.

Let’s do this for Sierra Leone!


(C) Politico 15/07/14

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