Sat, Sep 20, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Ebola shuts down Sierra Leone

IN LOCKDOWN:The country’s president ordered most of the population to stay at home for three days, with volunteers going door-to-door to educate families about the disease

AFP, FREETOWN

Sierra Leone yesterday launched a controversial three-day shutdown to contain the spread of the Ebola virus, as the UN Security Council declared the deadly outbreak a threat to world peace.

Most of Sierra Leone’s population of 6 million were confined to their homes from midnight, with only essential workers such as health professionals and security forces exempt from the lockdown.

Almost 30,000 volunteers were to go door-to-door to educate locals and hand out soap, in an exercise that could lead to scores more patients and bodies being discovered in people’s homes.

Health experts have criticized the shutdown, arguing that coercive measures to stem the epidemic could backfire and would be extremely hard to implement.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned that lockdowns may end up driving people underground “and jeopardize the trust between people and health providers.”

However, Sierra Leone President Ernest Koroma said that if the population were to heed the volunteers’ advice, “the campaign will greatly help to reverse the increasing trend of the disease transmission and become a very big boost to our collective effort to stop the outbreak.”

“These are extraordinary times and extraordinary times require extraordinary measures,” Koroma added in a message broadcast on TV and radio.

The extreme move comes amid mounting global concern over the Ebola epidemic, which has so far killed more than 2,600 people in west Africa.

Paranoia over Ebola is so rife that in Guinea, seven people sent to educate villagers on the disease were found dead after coming under attack from locals who apparently feared the delegation meant them harm.

In New York, the 15-member UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution declaring that the “unprecedented extent of the Ebola outbreak in Africa constitutes a threat to international peace and security.”

It called for immediate aid and urged nations to lift travel and border restrictions, and asked airlines and shipping companies to maintain their links with affected countries.

Ebola fever can fell its victims within days, causing severe muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea and — in some cases — unstoppable internal and external bleeding.

More than 550 people have died from the disease in Sierra Leone, one of the three hardest-hit nations alongside Guinea and Liberia.

Ose to Ose Ebola Tok — “House-to-House Ebola Talk” in the widely spoken Krio language — is to see more than 7,000 volunteer teams of four visiting the country’s 1.5 million homes over the next few days.

They are to educate locals on how to prevent infection, as well as set up neighborhood-watch-style community Ebola surveillance teams.

The government has said the volunteers will not enter people’s homes, but will call emergency services to deal with patients or bodies of which they become aware.

Extra beds have been set up at schools and hospitals across the country, including 200 in and around Freetown, with the government projecting an upsurge in cases of up to 20 percent as new patients are discovered.

The lockdown has broadly been welcomed by community leaders and residents of Freetown.

“We shall be praying that the operation will end the scourge. We support the government,” said 60-year-old Samuel Johnson, a father of three children who recently lost a daughter to Ebola.

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