Sunday, August 31, 2014

Miatta Kargbo Recalled to State House

Miatta Kargbo Sacked
Miatta Kargbo has been recalled to State House to serve in the Strategy and  Policy Unit until further notice"

The above was the statement released in Sierra Leone last week, announcing the "sacking" or "recalling"of the most incompetent Health Minister in the history of post independence Africa. This sacking of course came only after mountains of pressure had been piled on Sierra Leone's President Ernest Bai Koroma. He may finally have been convinced that his health minister was the very symbol of incompetence, both in how she prepared for and how how she responded to the Ebola crisis that is now battering the small West African nation.

When Ebola entered the country from Guinea and Liberia, the health ministry was totally unprepared. There was no comprehensive strategy, the Ebola test kits that had been stockpiled were expired, the personal protective equipment-PPEs- used by the health workers were for standard precautions and totally inadequate for Ebola, and consequently the infection spread as quickly as wildfire in the harmattan.
Poor Quality PPE in Sierra Leone

Miatta Kargbo's dilemma could be likened to a mediocre student who has prepared studiously for junior school exams being forced to take the final year exams of a university honors program with the expectations that she will pass with flying colors. It was never bound to happen. The computer experts have a term they call it;(GIGO)- garbage in, garbage out.

Everybody, except President Koroma, knew that Miatta Kargbo was a walking disaster. How she managed to stay as Health Minister from May to August, the President will one day be forced to explain to the souls of the hundreds who have died due to the disastrous handling of the Ebola outbreak in the country. Many people, including those very close to the President have blamed the hapless minister for the poor response to the crisis.  In my honest opinion, what many of her critics fail to comprehend is that this was truly a failure of presidential leadership. Miatta Kargbo's failure was the failure of President Koroma to see that square pegs are just not meant for round holes. If you have a round hole, you look for a round peg.
President Ernest Bai Koroma

President Koroma is the type of leader you need in a country which is completely disaster free, a country where the only role the ministers play is to praise the President and shower him with superficial platitudes. The only blessing that Sierra Leone has is that during country's protracted civil war, Ernest Bai Koroma was never voted for as President, as that would have been catastrophe of unimaginable proportions.

In Periods of crisis, President Koroma has proven over the years that time and again, he simply cannot rise up to the challenge of good leadership. The President's major flaw, both as a leader and a human being, is his inability to make quick decisions and his affinity for meaningless platitudes. In periods of crisis, he has sometimes asked people to engage in periods of fasting. One irate lady once said that if she had wanted a President who encouraged her to fast, she would have voted for her pastor.

President Koroma is so indecisive that he will take two months just to appoint a cabinet, only to appoint people like Miatta Kargbo who are simply clueless or other characters with dubious backgrounds and shady credentials. Just a few months ago, the president's own Chief of Staff,  Dr. Richard Konteh was caught forging his signatures on official documents. The fiancee of this same Chief of Staff, a 50 year old nanny in USA named Kadiatu Sahid Kamara, who also happens to be a close acquaintance of the President is currently facing the possibility of spending 22 years in jail in the state of Maryland, USA for having defrauded a family she was employed to as a nanny out of a total of $430,000.00 by writing scores of fraudulent checks, the same crime her fiancee Richard Konteh is in jail for in Sierra Leone. Richard and Kadiatu were a match made in forgery heaven, Sierra Leone's own real life version of Bonnie and Clyde.
President Koroma with Criminal
Nanny Kadiatu Sahid Conteh

 Just a few months ago another Koroma appointee, a deputy Minister of Education Mahmoud Tarawally, who was supposed to protect the interest of students in the country, was charged with violently raping a female student.  He had lured her on the promise of helping her get an overseas scholarship and then proceeded to brutally violate her in broad daylight. She ran to the police naked and bloody and today he is still walking about a free man.
Ex-Dep. Education Minister Mahmoud
Tarawally (The Rapist)

These are just a few examples of the poor choices among a catalog of many, made by the president, even when he spends months making up his mind. The President is simply not a crisis leader. Two years ago a simple cholera outbreak in the country quickly got out of hand, becaused at the same time the health ministry was embroiled in a massive corruption scandal. President Koroma's response to crisis is to simply order the many journalists whose pockets he greases to engage in widespread campaigns of misinformation. President Koroma is the rich uncle you want to enjoy Christmas with, but who you do not want to be with in a boat that is sinking.

The majority of Sierra Leoneans were not only disappointed by Miatta Kagbo's incompetence, they were even more stupefied by her lame statements. She initially blamed the promiscuity of health workers for the spread of Ebola, even providing the names of some of them as boyfriends and girlfriends in Parliament.

According to the press release announcing her removal from office, the Minister has now been transferred to State House to serve in the Strategy and Policy Unit, a move seen by many as an undeserved reward for her monumental failure. Whatever this unit is responsible for, one can only hope it has nothing to do with Ebola.

The new Minister of health Dr. Abubakarr Fofanah, a graduate of Sierra Leone's College of Medicine was Miatta's deputy, but it is rumored from reliable sources that they never got along. The President's loquacious Special Executive Assistant, Sylvia Blyden, who is apparently very close to the new minister, has been praising him in glowing terms all over social media. One can only hope that even if half of this praise is true, there could be the chance that a better outcome may be in the future for this crisis.

Many Sierra Leoneans I know heaved a collective sigh of relief when the announcement was made that the minister was relieved of her duties. One of her ardent critics even went as far as saylng that even a chimpanzee from the forests of Congo would do better than Miatta. We will just have to wait and see, as my honest opinion is that the incompetence in Sierra Leone is at the very top.
President Receiving $50.00 check from
Sierra Leone Football Association

These days money to fight Ebola is pouring into Sierra Leone from all over the world to fight the Ebola plague, and guess what, now that the money is pouring in, the fight against Ebola has suddenly moved from the health ministry to State House. It took much pressure from journalists last month for the President to even make one visit to the Ebola infected areas. Now that the dollars are pouring in, the President is now personally in charge of the Ebola response. With Ebola cash pouring in, there are already reports filtering out that Ebola funds are being mismanaged and Richard Konteh is not even there to forge checks. May God bless Sierra Leone.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ebola Updates from Segbwema and Kailahun: Stories from the Epicenter

Late Dr. Khan Conducting Ebola
Workshop in Segbwema
"Prevention is better than cure" has been the mantra of the leaders of Segbwema, the second largest town in Kailahun district. Before the Sierra Leone government even acknowledged the  seriousness of Ebola in Sierra Leone, the leaders of Njaluahun Chiefdom recognized the likely impact of the disease and with the help of the health authorities launched an intense and effective Ebola awareness campaign in Segbwema and the surrounding towns. This was because because Lassa Fever, another hemorrhagic fever far less popular than Ebola, had killed hundreds of people in those areas in the period of the 80s
Hon Abu Jajua Segbwema

The Member of Parliament for Kailahun Constituency 7, Njaluahun Chiefdom, Hon. Abu Jajua, the youngest MP in the history of the constituency coordinated with the Paramount Chief Sheriff Coker Jajua and with the help of the health ministry launched some successful Ebola educational workshops in Segbwema that were led by late Dr. Sheikh Umar Khan who was then the lead doctor at the Lassa Fever Project and was to soon become the leading Ebola expert in the country, shortly before he himself succumbed to the virulent outbreak.
Workshop Attendees listening

In the educational workshops, Dr. Khan went into great details about the nature of the new virus, its virulence and what the citizens needed to do if there was the incidence of an outbreak in the town or the surrounding localities. The people of Segbwema, with many years of experience dealing with the deadly Lassa Fever virus, were very receptive to the message and took appropriate precautions, storing and using chlorine and taking other effective secondary precautions. The fact that Segbwema was the home of Nixon Memorial Hospital, the first headquarters of the Lassa Fever Research Project was also very instrumental in getting the people to cooperate.

Another strong voice from Setbwema that was added to the fight against Ebola in the chiefdom has been that of John O. Benjamin, a prominent son of the town and an esteemed individual who had held many prominent positions in Sierra Leone and therefore commanded immense respect among his people. John Benjamin had interacted with health care workers and told the people of the town to be serious about the precautions to take with Ebola, as the disease was real, was in the country and was deadly.
Segbwema Paramount Chief Receiving
Chlorine from ADM Kamaraimba

A month or two after Dr. Khan's workshops in Segbwema, Ebola hit Daru town with the ferocity of a storm. Daru was just seven miles from Segbwema and the indigenes of both towns interacted on a daily basis. Segbwema was more populated than Daru and in the absence of the timely Ebola education, the town would have been affected almost as badly as its neighbor, if not worse. However, when Ebola came, Segbwema was better prepared than most towns in Kailahun district because of effective earlier education about the virus and the fact that the people had listened.

In the fight against Ebola, Segbwema has many advantages compared to other towns in Kailahun district. The town has always had a strong history of Catholic and Methodist educational institutions and consequently had a higher level of literacy than most towns in the district. Almost every child born in Segbwema has the chance to obtain at least primary school education and therefore there is higher than 60% literacy among the youths, a figure much higher than comparable localities. Segbwema also has the Nixon Memorial teaching hospital, which was once the leading health care institution in Eastern Sierra Leone and had trained many of the nurses in the area. 
Mr. John Benjamin in Segbwema

Unlike inhabitants of other towns in the area with low awareness of the efficacy of Western medicine who mostly consult traditional healers and herbalists when they get sick, the people of Segbwema have always used the hospital and clinics or see independent health care practitioners when they get sick. They therefore had a more progressive view of health and wellness than neighboring towns whose inhabitants relied on the herbs and invocations of traditional healers for every conceivable ailment and sometimes only visited the hospital when it was too late.

Ebola has not however escaped Segbwema. A few weeks ago, Murray Belewa a descendent from Mendekelema, a town just two miles from Segbwema who was a government nurse in Daru suddenly felt very ill. Murray had attended the Wesley Secondary school in Segbwema and had more faith in the healthcare provided in Segbwema than Daru. He therefore made the fateful decision to come to Segbwema to seek help. 
Nixon Memorial Hospital Segbwema

Upon arriving in Segbwema Murray sought treatment at Nixon Nixon Memorial Hospital and was  initially treated by Nurse Joe Nallo who was working with the doctor at the hospital. Unfortunately Nurse Murray had Ebola and succumbed to the disease. A few days later, Nurse Joe Nallo who was the brother of the Acting Principal of Wesley Secondary School, Mr. Allan Idrissa Magbity, also became sick and died. Then Allan Idrissa, the Principal, and his mother also became very sick. Unfortunately Allan Idrissa died and the entire family was quarantined and taken to the Ebola Treatment Center in Kailahun. Their house was quarantined and sprayed and even though they were in the middle of many groups of houses, the disease did not spread in the neighborhood. In total 4 members of the Nixon staff who treated Murray have now died out of the seven who had direct contact with him.

According to the Member of Parliament Hon. Abu Jajua who is currently on a food distribution drive, Njaluahun chiefdom currently has 38 Ebola cases, with 14 deaths, 16 in camps and 8 survivors. Compared to other Chiefdoms in Kailahun such as Jawie and Kissi Teng, Njaluahun chiefdom has fared relatively better and should be a guide to the Ebola task force in the country that the primary tool to employ in inhibiting the further spread of this menace is "effective education," delivered by health care practitioners. Some of the short Ebola skits (plays) I have seen on social media are helpful, but some just succeed in propagating fear and misconception.
Hon Abu Jajua distributing rice in
his constituency

In Kailahun, there has been some problems between the staff of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) or Doctors without Borders and those of the World Health Organization (WHO). A Senegalese working with WHO has contracted Ebola and the MSF staff are of the opinion that the WHO staff wre not taking the proper precautions. No MSF staff has contracted the virus even though they have been leading the treatment of the disease. As they all share the same hotel in Kailahun, the MSF staff have asked the WHO staff to vacate the hotel. The WHO staff have therefore left Kailahun with their lab technician which means that blood samples now have to be taken to Kenema for tests, further complicating matters.

Brigadier Julius Maada Bio
distributing Rice
The most urgent problem right now in the quarantined areas is the availability of food. In spite of the billions being collected to help in the fight against Ebola, the government has sent only bulgur wheat as food aid. Last week the former military leader of the country Rtd. Brigadier Maada Bio distributed 300 bags of rice to the victims, but this is just a drop in the bucket, as the afflicted areas have practically seen a drop in farming and other related agricultural activities over the past few months and this year's planting season was practically abandoned, a harbinger of the hunger that will descend on that area over the coming months in the absence of any harvest. Mr. Francis Keili an engineer and politician has launched a foundation to help the children of medical workers affected by Ebola and plans to make it a formidable foundation with international outreach. Dr. Jonathan Tengbe, another citizen of Kailahun district has launched the "Feed the People Campaign" to support food delivery in the affected areas. Dr. Tengbe was also born in Segbwema. He has already donated twenty bags of rice to the Chiefdom Speaker of Kissi Kama.
Vandi Jaward: Ebola Survivor

A radio presenter in Kenema, DJ Snow, this past weekend lamented the sorry plight of the Ebola survivors in the country. When survivors go back to their areas, people treat them as outcasts. The fear,  ignorance and the belief that survivors could be carriers has become so widespread that many of these people, who should be considered extremely lucky, have now become pariahs, treated as if they were an abomination, scorned and turned away by their relatives and friends. The radio presenter said that most of the survivors were discharged without food and are finding it hard to survive. A spokesperson for Sierra Leone's ministry of health Sidie Yayah Tunis was asked what the health authorities were doing to provide sustenance to the Ebola survivors. His answer was that there was nowhere in the world where patients are discharged from hospital and given money. This statement was particularly disturbing, given the nature of the disease and the fact that these were people who were being discharged after a bout with a terrible disease and their home areas were quarantined while they were shunned by their acquaintances. How were they expected to survive. The sad fact is that if nothing is done, Ebola patients will survive the disease only to die from hunger, unless some of the monies being donated to State House be apportioned to help not only the sick, but the survivors too.

Friday, August 1, 2014

People in Ebola Areas Badly Need Education about the Infection

Sierra Leone Ebola Outbreak
I just finished listening to a WhatsApp audio file in which a fellow from Kailahun district,  the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in the country is conveniently denying the existence of Ebola, blissfully oblivious of the terrible nature of this virus, and attributing all the alarm to some sort of conspiracy by the All Peoples Congress ( APC ) to kill people from that area and keep them from voting in future elections.

Bob Marley one wrote, "fools die for want of wisdom, " that statement is prophetic in the face of such glaring lack of education about Ebola Virus.
Segbwema MP Abu Jajua Conducting
Ebola Education with Late Dr  Khan

The really scary thing about the clip is not even the degree of ignorance manifested by this fellow in the face of such a devastating epidemic,  but the fact that he claims that they are telling their people and children not to take any medications or treatment provided by outsiders for the disease, even if they came from America and Germany, and to chase them and kill them. He said that they should attack even the President of Sierra Leone if he was the one that took the treatment to them.

Sad to note too is the fact that the fellow is obviously totally convinced about the truth of this so called vast government conspiracy, that the journalist or whoever was interviewing him did not even see any need to argue or educate him. The interviewer was simply at a loss for words.

This audio clip, even though it is so totally disheartening, is very revealing in many ways:

Firstly, it shows that the authorities in Sierra Leone still have a long way to go in trying to convince the largely illiterate and highly superstitious people in these areas where the outbreak started that Ebola is real, it kills and does not care whether you belong to SLPP,  APC or even the Ignorant Party. Ebola simply does not discriminate and doesn't care about tribe or region. 

Secondly, it shows that in trying to educate people about Ebola in these areas, the messenger is equally as important as the message. It is absolutely crucial for the government to dent holes in these insane conspiracy theories by spreading the message through individuals and media who bear the trust of the locals. In the case of this fellow he simply does not trust those in power, unfortunate but true.

A third and very important revelation is that whatever task force is put together to tackle this outbreak should be non-political and should include people who would add value to the task force by the skills,  experiences and knowledge they bring to this fight,  devoid of their current or past political affiliations. The task force should include people experienced in disaster management, epidimiologists, virologists, etc. The "chop the money" types should be kept away from the management of this crisis as far away as possible.

In order to tackle this outbreak,  the help of everybody is required. All such help  should be channeled through the health ministry, or whatever organ is instituted to tackle the outbreak so that the activities of individuals are coordinated,  duplication is avoided, proper health protocols are followed and a national disaster management plan is adhered to.
President Declares State of Emergency

President Ernest Koroma has already talked about setting up an Ebola task force that would be based at State House and would lead the official response to the outbreak.  The work of this task force should hopefully be to complement and strengthen whatever good work is already being done. The President should ensure that people who are always the agents of controversy are kept as far away from this task force as possible. All official government announcements about Ebola should now be through the task force. The government should speak with a single voice.

In addition to the local ignorance about Ebola,  the right wing conspiracy theorists in USA and the diaspora have also started to do what they are good at, putting out fake scientific papers and the usual conspiracy theories about Ebola. Some are already saying that it is a failure of a weapons lab at Kenema and that George Soros and the USA government are involved.  There are also papers purporting that the local "Bitter Kola" is efficacious in the management of the disease. What is dangerous about these diaspora based conspiracy theories and papers is that our people have the tendency to believe most publications that come from overseas and hardly bother to check the integrity of the source.  It is therefore very important that the authorities be on the lookout for these conspiracy theories and debunk them before they become other obstacles to fighting this outbreak.

Even though the fight against Ebola should be non political,  it is important to recognize the overarching impact of politics in Sierra Leone.  Politicians who are trusted in the different areas should be drafted to help with Ebola education. It is however important that the focus be on local politicians and not the big crowd pullers, as what you don't want in the midst of this outbreak is thousands of people gathered to follow a national political figure. Ebola spreads faster this way, so absolute care should be taken to avoid campaign style events in the affected areas, as this will only exacerbate rather than help contain the spread of this contagion.

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