Sierra Leone has again instituting a massive quarantine to stem the deadly Ebola outbreak. The country put travel restrictions on northern districts Port Loko and Bombali and southern district Moyamba. The quarantine affects up to two million people.
“The isolation of districts and chiefdoms will definitely pose great difficulty but the lives of everyone and the survival of our country takes precedence over these difficulties,” said Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma. “These are trying moments for everyone in the country.”
Only people with essential items and health workers are allowed to move within the quarantine zones.
“There is a desperate need to step up our response to this dreaded disease,” according to the government. “The prognosis is that without additional interventions or changes in community behavior, the numbers will increase exponentially and the situation will rapidly deteriorate.”
There are six million people in Sierra Leone and over two million are affected by quarantines. Almost all of the fourteen districts in Sierra Leone are under curfews or quarantine. In most of the non-quarantined areas, people are only allowed outside between 9AM – 5PM. Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown is witnessing a rise in infections. Due to the density in population in Freetown, only houses with Ebola will be quarantined. Sebastian Funk, lecturer in infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, warned that the plan could backfire.
“If transmission of Ebola mostly happens at home, it could make things worse. And it could also potentially seed mistrust and cause people to hide cases,” said Funk. “It may buy you some time but it is probably not going to stop the epidemic.”
British charity Street Child said the crack down could lead to starvation. “We were not prepared for the quarantine overnight. The areas being quarantined are really poor communities” said country director, Kelfa Kargbo. “We need more help from the World Food Programme, but more than that we need a distribution network to be built to make sure the food gets in and gets in regularly to the starving people. I am expecting starvation to show in three or four weeks unless this is addressed.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) said 597 people died in Sierra Leone out of 1,940 cases. An unidentified Western Diplomat told The New York Times that international health officials claim the stats “are largely inaccurate.” WHO said the stats are “subject to change.” Officials found 77 bodies illegally buried during Sierra Leone’s three-day shutdown last weekend. Half of the bodies were infected with Ebola. In Freetown, officials asserted only ten people died of Ebola. But King Tom Cemetery supervisor Abdul Rahman Parker told The New York Times that over “110 Ebola victim have been buried” at the cemetery from September 14th to the 22nd.
“I’m working with the burial team, and the first question I ask them is, ‘Are they Ebola-positive?'”
A burial team supervisor backed up Parker’s claim. Each Ebola death is recorded by name and date in a notebook. These stats could mean the Sierra Leone is “underplaying the gravity of the situation on the ground.”