“We need to STOP announcing fake deaths numbers,” writes the editor of the largest newspaper in Sierra Leone, Dr. Sylvia Blyden, in the Awareness Times. The paper had previously accused the government of fudging the math on the Ebola death toll, resulting in hundreds of missing patients, but now, Blyden claims the government is artificially deflating the Ebola death toll deliberately.
In her column, Blyden responds to the latest numbers from Sierra Leone’s Health Ministry, which announced the new death toll as 973 nationwide out of 3,156 cases. She argues that “the reality is more like 2,200 deaths (70%),” but any of these are reported as missing individuals, not dead patients. The latest tally included 1,549 “uncategorized” cases– individuals who were not currently interned at a hospital, officially dead, or cured of the disease and released.
Blyden notes that, perhaps, the government is attempting to mask the depth of its inadequacy in responding to the Ebola crisis, but she notes that transparency is key. “Even United Nations WHO is now openly admitting it made gross bungles in managing this crisis,” she writes, “So why is Government of Sierra Leone behaving as if it is inconceivable for them to correct the erroneous numbers? Why are authorities in Sierra Leone continuing to give us under reported deaths numbers? Why?”
Blyden appeals to the people of Sierra Leone to call for greater government transparency. “For God’s sake,” she writes, “how long will citizens continue to unquestionably accept the under-reported nature of the catastrophe unfolding on Sierra Leone? Ebola cannot be fought on a Platform of LIES.” She adds that, as Africans, they have an especial duty to be true to the dead: “Moreover, we are Africans. The spirits of the dead need to be appeased and the minimum we can do is to acknowledge that those who died, have died.”
The Awareness Times report is not the first of its kind, nor is it even the first within the same paper. In September, the newspaper reported that nearly 1,000 Ebola patients had remained unaccounted for in the statistics. That same month, the New York Times reported that health experts on the ground had found Sierra Leone’s government officials to be highly untrustworthy and their numbers “largely inaccurate.”
Sierra Leone is not the only nation with significant problems in keeping reliable Ebola death tallies. In Liberia, accusations are flying that the government’s tally of Ebola cases and deaths are both wildly inaccurate, though not just because the government is having difficulty keeping up. In many cases, the stigma that Ebola carries leads family members to hide relatives to are believed to carry the virus, rather than bring them to a hospital or other medical facility. Other families have been known to attack medical personnel who try to give their relatives care.