With west African governments increasingly desperate to contain an ever-quickening Ebola epidemic, Sierra Leone has decreed a stringent new measure: confining residents to their homes later this month.
From Sept. 19 to Sept. 21, “everybody is expected to stay indoors” as 7,000 teams of health and community workers root out hidden Ebola patients, government spokesman Abdulai Bayraytay said on Saturday from the capital, Freetown.
The military and police will enforce the action, Bayraytay added.
“It’s clear that we have pockets of resistance, in terms of denial,” he said. “People are still harboring loved ones at home.”
“Sometimes neighbors are calling us” with information about people with Ebola, he added. “That gave us the clear indication that people are still harboring patients.”
International health organizations generally oppose such measures, saying that they add a punitive element, increase hardships to communities and diminish needed trust and cooperation.
On Saturday, a representative of one agency voiced similar reservations about Sierra Leone’s policy, expressing doubts that it would be effective. He asked not to be quoted by name because of the delicacy of the matter.
The group Doctors Without Borders, which has been working in the region, said that the plan could make matters worse.
“It has been our experience that lockdowns and quarantines do not help control Ebola, as they end up driving people underground and jeopardizing the trust between people and health providers,” it said on Saturday, according to news agency reports.
A top UN official in Sierra Leone said he supports the move.
“The reality is that the fight against Ebola will not be won in the Ebola clinic. By the house-to-house campaign, you try to stop transmission at the family level,” UNICEF national representative Roeland Monasch said
The WHO on Friday said that deaths from Ebola in west Africa had topped 2,000. Sierra Leone has recorded 491 deaths.
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