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Africa

Sierra Leone starting to see ‘stabilising’ effect of Ebola quarantine, says presidential advisor

media Testing for the Ebola virus in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Symptoms of Ebola include fever and a temperature of 38.6°C or higher. Reuters/Bindra/UNICEF

A high-ranking advisor to Sierra Leone’s president told RFI on Saturday that they are beginning to see the effects of the quarantine on certain areas of the country hit by the deadly Ebola virus. Monty Jones, special advisor to President Ernest Bai Koroma, said that for the past week they have been recording a reduction in the number of cases and deaths in two districts under quarantine. RFI spoke to Professor Monty Jones, presidential liaison for Ebola.

When will we know whether the quarantine in Sierra Leone is having an effect on the epidemic?

We quarantined two districts in the eastern part of the country, Kailahun district and Kenema district. Today, as I speak to you, and for about a week or so now, we’ve been getting reduced numbers of cases, a reduced number of deaths from those two districts. So in those areas the number of cases has stabilised at a much lower level. What is happening is that we’re beginning to see new epicentres emerging, for example, in the northern part of the country in Bombali district and also Port Loko district and in the western area.

Are you saying that the quarantine is starting to have a positive effect? Are you saying that you’re starting to see the results of the quarantine?

Yes, I believe that we’re seeing the results of the quarantine and of course we’re seeing the results of people who are working in the quarantine areas. For example MSF, Médecins Sans Frontières, they’re working in the Kailahun district and of course this is a centre of excellence and they’ve done a very good job so that the number of cases has come down. The quarantine must have helped in keeping people in places and making sure that people don’t get out of those districts. Of course, there must be loopholes here and there, but generally we were able to keep the Kailahun people in Kailahun, generally we were able to keep the Kenema people in the Kenema district. But the experience from those two districts, we’re going to use for those three other districts that we’ve now quarantined. Because what we realise is that, okay quarantining a whole district it may not be possible to do 100 per cent effectively. We are beginning to see that there is need to quarantine homes, where the cases are actually identified. Quarantine those homes, make sure you give them the necessary care, the people that are quarantined, in terms of food, provision of medicine that is required and visits from a team that will give counselling and things like that. This is what we’re going to emphasise in these new areas that we’re quarantining right now.

Is it too early to say how long the quarantine will last for?

In the first areas that we quarantined, Kenema and Kailahun districts, they’re quarantined and we want that area to be quarantined until we get a reasonably very low number or we get to zero Ebola in those districts. The new areas that we have quarantined we’ve given an initial 21 days, but who knows what will happen at the end of 21 days, they may [continue to] be quarantined. But our concern is more like in the capital city in Freetown and other big towns because you don’t want this problem to get out of hand in those big cities, well-populated areas. Otherwise, you would not be able to handle the number of cases, the number of contact traces that we have, you may not be able to make contact with everybody. Dead bodies may be lying in the streets or homes and things like that. So we want to create a conducive [atmosphere] that will create fair play for the people that we are quarantining.

Your president has called for the lifting of the travel ban on Sierra Leone. Isn’t this a bit early?

I don’t think it is early. I think that the pronouncement from the World Health Organisation says it all, that this is a disease that is transferred through contact. It is a disease that is transferred when the symptoms have been displayed. So, the tests that we’re carrying out at our airport today are very adequate to tell that people who are boarding the plane do not show signs of the disease. For example, we use this infrared thermometer to take your temperature to ascertain that you are within the normal temperature range. Then they also carry out discussion on a random basis of people to get their history and things like that. This travel ban should be lifted and people’s countries should not be isolated. I think that it is wrong of all those people that have placed a travel ban. Of course, we do realise that people want to save their citizens and people want their citizens not to contract this terrible disease. Sierra Leoneans are not going to spread this disease abroad because we are peace-loving people, we like people and welcome people to our country. But can you imagine, we are going through this strain of fighting an epidemic that is so bad, that has come to the region and to our country for the first time. And all the world says is, ‘we’re banning movement into your countries, we’re banning goods from coming to your countries, we’re banning services from coming to your countries’. Because Sierra Leone needs the world at this time, we need people to come, we need doctors to come, we need nurses to come. If you cut off flights to Sierra Leone, you are telling these people not to come. I don’t think that is fair.

Exactly what are the shortfalls of people and equipment that you need? Because the British government has said its providing an extra 700 hospital beds, the Chinese have sent mobile Ebola labs, 40 military and humanitarian personnel have arrived from the UK, the British healthcare service is sending 164 people, Cuba’s sending 165 doctors and specialists. What else exactly do you need in terms of equipment and people?

We’ll be making an assessment of the situation because we do know that the British would like to put 700 beds to serve as treatment centres. This is very much welcome. We know that the Chinese are here and they’re building at our Jui hospital, they’re putting two mobile labs there and they’ve increased the capacity of that hospital. Now they’ve starting functioning, they started functioning yesterday. The Cubans will be coming and they’ll be located in one of our hospitals in the northern part of the country. Eventually, the Russians too will be coming. Once all of these are settled, then we’re going to make an assessment of what will be our further requirements. But we are hoping, we are strongly hoping that the measures that we’ve put in place and the efforts that we’re going to make to strengthen our resolve in carrying out sensitisation and in carrying the population ahead to know what to do and what not to do so that we curtail this disease. We are going to strengthen that effort because we would like to see the end or the beginning of the end of this disease by end of November, beginning of December. So we want to do everything possible that will make us to get to that state at that time. If the first areas that were quarantined, Kailahun and Kenema, are beginning to record a reduced number of cases, reduced number of deaths and increased number of survivors we want to make sure that this echoes in the other districts that we’ve quarantined - in the northern part of the country, Bombali and also Port Loko district and in the southern part of the country, Moyamba Junction. So we are very determined to work, to make sure we reduce this Ebola problem in our country and say goodbye to it, definitely by the beginning of next year and beginning to see signs of that by end of November, early December.

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