Friday, March 20, 2020

COVID-19 Preparedness in Sierra Leone

As the saying goes, once bitten, twice shy. In Sierra Leone, the Julius Maada Bio led government has been very eager to prevent a repeat of the 2014 health care crisis in the country that caught national and regional leaders flat-footed, resulting in the loss of thousands of lives.
President Bio

During the 2014 Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, the country’s health care system almost collapsed under the weight of the unprecedented demand for medical services. The Ebola crisis was only brought under control as a result of the massive direct international response by many foreign health personnel, immense personal sacrifice by local health care workers and a change in the disease response strategy on the part of the country’s leadership. The Ebola debacle led to the dismissal of the Health Minister at the time and the appointment of the Defense Minister to head the Ebola response.
Paolo Conteh

With the current covid-19 epidemic wreaking havoc in countries with more advanced health care systems, President Bio, who has recently faced criticism by members of the opposition All Peoples Congress (APC) for  frequent international travels, has stayed in the country over the last few months and taken the lead role in planning a systematic response to covid-19, were it ever to enter the country.

Primarily, the government’s effort has been geared towards developing systems that would prevent the introduction and spread of covid-19 in the country.

A few weeks ago, the President visited the country’s border posts and urged authorities at these posts to be vigilant in screening land travelers using border crossings in order to prevent cross country spread of the disease. He also assured them of his support and reminded them of the last Ebola experience, a repeat of which was to be prevented for the good of all.

Having resuscitated the domestic football league that was suspended under the previous Ernest Koroma led government, the Sierra Leone Football Association has been instructed to take the dramatic step of suspending all football activities in the country, even though there has yet to be a single case of covid-19 reported in the country.

In a move that caught even his most ardent supporters by surprise, the President this week invited members of the former Ebola response group that was then headed by some of his most bitter political rivals to a consultative meeting. The meeting was to discuss a national response to a potential covid-19 crisis. The Ebola group included Rtd Major Paolo Conteh, under whose leadership the Ebola crisis response became more structured. Paolo is however regarded by many in the country as one of the individuals who epitomized the insane level of official corruption that came to define the Ernest Koroma administration. 

The invitation of Paolo Conteh to State House by the President created some disquiet among ruling party supporters and other observers, with some stating that members of the opposition APC have done everything possible to stymie development initiatives in the country, just because they were not in power. Some also believe that inviting Paolo would undermine the fight against public corruption and send a negative signal that those accused of pillaging state funds would go scot free.

However, those close to the President state that with covid-19 being potentially a national crisis that could affect many individuals regardless of party affiliation, it was prudent for all who had experience in managing crises of this sort to be consulted. They opined that if APC had involved all political stakeholders im the country during the fight against Ebola, possibly, the consequences might not have been so catastrophic.  As President of Sierra Leone, Maada Bio, they argue, was focusing on more on national than political interest.

In other news, flights to the country are to be suspended from Saturday March 21st, in line with the response of other countries in the region. Visitors from countries with known covid-19 infections are being quarantined at Lungi airport, though the quarantine process has been criticized for inadequate planning. The authorities are also discouraging congregation of large groups around the country.

Sheku Sheriff

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COVID-19 Preparedness in Sierra Leone

As the saying goes, once bitten, twice shy. In Sierra Leone, the Julius Maada Bio led government has been very eager to prevent a repeat ...