As the number of Ebola cases begin to rise for the first time in 2015, a new audit has uncovered more than $3 million in funding to fight Ebola in Sierra Leone is wholly unaccounted for. The government has vowed a prompt investigation as it begins to quarantine previously untouched neighborhoods in the capital, Freetown.
According to Reuters, the three nations most grievously affected by the Ebola outbreak that began in March 2014– Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia– have announced new deadlines in combatting the virus. All three countries hope to reach a level of zero new cases within sixty days, beginning on February 14. The governments of the three nations, in tandem with the World Health Organization, announced this new deadline just as the WHO revealed that the number of Ebola cases in West Africa has increased in all three countries. Reuters notes that Sierra Leone had the most new confirmed cases last week at 76.
Monrovia, Liberia’s The News adds that a seemingly chronic inability of medical personnel to reach many of those affected by the virus persists as a major challenge to eradicating the Ebola threat. In Guinea, the newspaper reports, workers estimate that medical personnel are the subjects of violent attacks at least ten times per month, in part due to the belief that the United States and other Western governments have deliberately planted the virus in their communities.
Sierra Leone appears to face violent threats against medical workers with less frequency than Guinea, but the efficiency of their operation pales in comparison. The Awareness Times, the largest newspaper in Freetown, warns that the Ebola virus has begun to ravage parts of the nation that had previously appeared to survive the epidemic. Western Area, Freetown has recorded 62 of the 87 new cases in all of Sierra Leone between the days of February 8-15, for example.
One Ebola crisis worker told the Awareness Times that those working in his facility, the British Council Command Center, were shocked to find that “new cases are coming from unexpected cases,” and that the distribution of cases moved from mostly already quarantined homes to entirely untouched areas almost instantly beginning February 8. Over 2,000 households are reportedly under quarantine in Western Area, Freetown.
The shift in location of Ebola cases demands of medical workers increased surveillance and requires more resources to keep the virus from spreading further. Sierra Leone, in particular, appears to be facing a crisis regarding its Ebola combatting resources. In an extensive report, the Sierra Leone National Auditors have found more than $3 million– 14 million Leones– are unaccounted for by any documentation. The money, about one third of Sierra Leone’s allocated Ebola funds, has been spent with no receipts or proof that the money went to fighting Ebola.
As The Guardian notes, the report found “hazard payments being made to hospitals with no proof the money was actually going to the health workers on the frontline and in some cases a ‘complete disregard for the law’ in procurement.” While it is believed that most of the funds went into buying ambulances and personal protective suits for health workers in the proximity of Ebola patients, some hospitals are under suspicion of paying “ghost workers” by demanding of the national government more salaries than there were workers in that institution.
The government has promised an investigation into the funding that has not yet been accounted for.