While health officials say they are making headway against the Ebola epidemic in neighboring Liberia, the disease is still raging in Sierra Leone, despite the big international push. In November alone, the World Health Organization has reported more than 1,800 new cases in this country, about three times as many as in Liberia, which until recently had been the center of the outbreak.
More than six weeks ago, international health officials conceded that they were overwhelmed in Sierra Leone and reluctantly announced a Plan B. Until enough hospital beds could be built here, they pledged to at least help families tend to their sick loved ones at home.
The health officials admitted Plan B was a major defeat, but said the approach would only be temporary and promised to supply basics like protective gloves, painkillers and rehydration salts.
Fever is the scarlet letter of Ebola. Just about every important building in Freetown — hotels, banks, government offices — is now manned by a guard with an infrared thermometer and a bucket of diluted bleach for a mandatory hand wash.
But in the slums, it is a different story. In Kissi Town, an underserved area of dirt roads and dirty wells, the local Ebola task force said that more than 150 people had recently died of the virus, and that many had received no food, medicine or any other help.
Sierra Leone has an elaborate Ebola response system — on paper. It starts with a call to 117, the toll-free number for central dispatch. A surveillance team is sent out, then an ambulance takes a patient to a holding center, then blood tests and a proper treatment center where the patient might receive intravenous fluids or other special care.
But the Ebola clinics do not have nearly enough beds, especially in Freetown, and an ambulance will not show up at a sick person’s house unless there is a bed somewhere for that patient. The government says it needs 3,000 beds nationwide but has fewer than half of that now.
Ambulances are hurtling across the country for hours to remote clinics in the east, where there are a few vacancies. The roads are horrendously bumpy; the jungle heat without reprieve. Many patients are dead on arrival.
Public health professionals are beginning to look harder at Sierra Leone’s culture, which is dominated by secret men’s and women’s societies that have certain rituals, especially around burials. Many people here — just like in other cultures — believe that the afterlife is more important than this one. A proper burial, in which the body is touched and carefully washed, is the best way to ensure a soul reaches its destination. (Source: New York Times, Despite Aid Push, Ebola Raging in Sierra Leone, Nov. 27, 2014)
Announcement: Parents do not be concerned about ebola outside of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinnea. They are far away from the areas in which missionaries serve. However, our prayers continue with the peoples of these hard-hit countries. There will be an Africa-wide Fast on Sunday, December 7th.