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.

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