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Sierra Leone: The devastation of the ebola crisis

Over a year ago the Ebola epidemic hit Sierra Leone devastating the wellbeing of the community and infecting thousands. ActionAid Executive Director Mohamed Sillah arrived on the Rock to discuss his experiences when working in the infected areas.

Ebola first hit Sierra Leone in May 2014 and communities were rife with misinformation and fear regarding the outbreak.

Mr Sillah explained that at the time many locals thought the vaccines would do more harm than good and with only 20 ambulances serving a population of five million the ill equipped nature of the medical service compounded the community’s hostility over the government’s health system.

Speaking to the Chronicle just before his talk sponsored by Kusuma Trust at the Garrison Library, Mr Sillah described the fear of infection, the lack of education and aftermath of the Ebola outbreak.

“It was a big scare for everyone,” Mr Sillah said.

“We had situations where in some days you had 50 people infected, 100 people infected.”

“It was so scary.”

“One of the things we even did when the crisis was coming to an end was we did social training. We would train around 700 people to serve as councillors so they can council people.”

Over 4,000 people died in Sierra Leone from Ebola with 221 of these being health workers. The crisis peaked in October 2014 where it was estimated five people an hour were being infected with 121 fatalities recorded on a single day.

“Everybody was affected although not everyone was infected. Your life was affected because you would no longer run a business as a result of restrictions. We were in a state of emergency so you could get no more than five people together in one place. It was not allowed.”

“It was so stressful, even myself as a person, I was so stressed.”

“I personally have a lot of challenges because I have to work for ActionAid. I have to go to the communities, give out support and some of these days when I go back home if I feel a fever I am so scared I don’t go near my children.”

“I lock myself in a room for two, three days and observe myself.”

“If I don’t see any signs after one week then I will begin to come back close to my children.”

Sierra Leone was declared free of Ebola last month, but safety precautions continue. The people of Sierra Leone cannot shake hands or hug publically and are expected to wash their hands regularly due to a fear the virus will come back.

ActionAid in Sierra Leone worked with the communities to improve education on the subject of Ebola. Schools were closed in a bid to reduce infection and contamination, and instead lessons were transmitted on radio.

According to Mr Sillah ActionAid was pivotal in the dissemination of information during the outbreak was many were reluctant to believe in the government. At the time people believed that Ebola did not exist, or it had no cure.

“People thought they would give you an injection and you would die,” Mr Sillah said.

“All this misinformation led people to run away from hospitals to seek treatment.”

ActionAid instructed “social mobilisers” to educate their peers and community on what Ebola was and how treatment was crucial.

“The biggest crisis we had was ambulances. In the whole country we had no more than 20

functional ambulances, for a whole country with a population of over five million.”

“That became clear. You had one ambulance serving two districts with a population of over 400,000 people. It was so crazy but sometimes out of the bad we have got good now.”

“Now we have over two hundred ambulances as a result of the crisis, and now the government is thinking of setting up a national ambulance service so that people can always call on ambulances.”

ActionAid has been working in Sierra Leone for over 25 years and will continue to provide support to those affected by Ebola.