A day after the Ebola outbreak was declared over in Sierra Leone, Dr. Marshall Elliot, a senior United Kingdom diplomat, warned of its recurrence. Or so Umaru Fofanah, the award winning BBC Reporter, made us believe.
Reactions to what many have labeled as demonic foreboding has been motley. Some scathing attacks have poured down like September rain in the forest region on Dr. Elliot. A commentator damned him as undiplomatic and the comment as a diplomatic blunder. Some people want the UK diplomat to eat the crow for this ill-timed gaffe. In the days of the AFRC junta, this man would have been a candidate for the firing squad; those who have witnessed military regime in the country would remember that many great men lost their lives on account of words they uttered. One writer even proposed that the British national should be arrested for ‘reckless statement”. Marshall you are lucky that this is a different era and that these Face Book commentators are not the holders of power.
The more religious commentators have not only resigned to the destiny-attitude of “God nor go gree”, God forbid or God is in control, some have invoked the name of Jesus to rebuke that statement. These are the liberal ones. The not-so-compromising zealots took a leap further by flinging a curse – “back to sender!!!” (one wrote) – praying that an Ebola outbreak be realized in the United Kingdom rather than Sierra Leone. Marshall you truly should bless you stars that these people do not have the divine grace of Jesus to invoke the demons from the sick and throw them to the swine; you would have had Ebola over night as one of them would have conjured the spirit of illness and “fankay” you with it. If you lived in a medieval African village, Dr. Elliot, you would have been accused of witchcraft and banished. No wonder some have called for you to be PNGed.
One can comprehend the frustration of those who are calling for Marshall to be guillotined. Sierra Leoneans are fed-up with travel restrictions, lock-downs and daily early business houses close-down. They cannot afford to bury additional health workers (200 already died of Ebola), they won’t like to think about more orphans and widows milled out as a result of this dreadful virus.
Wait a minute. Just for the sake of analysis, let us put the manner in which Dr. Elliot spoke to the parking lot; many are concerned with the semantics – the use of the word “will” and would have preferred “may”, (Ebola may come back…).
Definitive or conditional, the possibility of a reoccurrence has not been entirely excluded. Dr. Elliot may not be the only one with this thinking. And you do not need to look too far to be concerned about a reoccurrence. Weeks after our sister Mano River state, Liberia’s outbreak was confirmed ended in May 2015, new cases emerged in June and July, which called for another declaration of end of Ebola in Liberia on 3 September 2015. If you wish to dig deeper, Uganda provides you with evidence of a recurrence of Ebola in a country. And considering that the Mano River Union states are triplets of a sort with free movements among the countries, we should be bothered that Ebola is yet undefeated in Guinea.
Someone said, Ebola is not over until it is completely eradicated in all three Mano River Union countries. I second this unreservedly.
I would not crucify Dr. Elliot. I choose to see his so-called ‘devilish warning’ as a challenge. I dare all Sierra Leoneans to pick up this challenge and belie it by our attitude. It is the only way we can give him the benefit of the doubt; that is, if we believe that he doubted our will to continue to be Ebola free. Let’s use our will-power to prevent a come back of Ebola. How?
Those who are not in power (the general citizens) should continue with the basics of Ebola prevention – we know the routine and we should not abandon them just yet. Hand washing is simple and enjoyable; let’s continue with it. Portable sanitizer canisters are part of our hand bags and car carry-ins these days; take them along with you daily and make use of them. We have survived and enjoyed great meals without any bush meat for a year; am sure you can spare those monkeys and baboons a bit longer. Don’t revert to bush meat eating too soon (or stop it completely!!). We can seek for a test on corpses to determine if the course of death can allow for the traditional burial practice of washing the dead; we should not automatically revert to washing of dead bodies unless we want Marshall’s warning to come true.
Those in power (the central government, district and chiefdom authorities) should ensure best practices in hygiene and sanitation are enforced especially in public places /communal infrastructure. They should not throw away the public hand-washing facilities so soon. They should promote the culture of good public health norms including hand-washing in markets centers, schools, shrines, hospitals and so on. Let every district get and maintain a stock of medical emergency kits – personal protective equipment, gloves, spare beddings etc. Councillors should advocate and ensure Ebola survivors are closely monitored through clinical research by competent officials. Traditional leaders should not desist from keeping the awareness level of their subjects on the need to maintain practices that promote good health and abandon those that are inimical and may encourage the spread of any kind of virus and diseases.
While it is genuine to express frustration on the mention of a possible recurrence of Ebola, it is more relevant to focus on the things that will ensure a reoccurrence is made impossible. Our little efforts in continuing to observe best practices in Ebola prevention is all it takes.
By Abubakarr TalibJalloh