Sierra Leoneans Quarantining Each Other in Absence of Government Help

Sierra Leoneans Quarantining Each Other in Absence of Government Help

As the Ebola outbreak in West Africa appears to be declining in some parts of Liberia, the news for neighboring Sierra Leone has only gotten worst. In an extensive profile of the situation in Ebola-contaminated parts of that nation, the New York Times reports that a lack of government help has forced Sierra Leoneans to start quarantining each other.

The profile notes that Sierra Leone has now, statistically, become the epicenter of the spread of the virus, with 1,800 new cases of Ebola reported in November, triple the number in Liberia during the same time period. In response to the growing number of cases of Ebola in Liberia during the summer, that nation has received much of the international help meant to stop the Ebola outbreak, including the deployment of U.S. troops. Meanwhile, Sierra Leone has been fighting off numerous protests by Ebola workers who have not received payment in weeks–and, in some cases, months. In one particularly gruesome instance this week, an Ebola burial team protested their lack of pay for the past two months by lining the streets by the burial center with the corpses they refused to bury. The most prominent international aid to the country has come from Cuba, which has been using Sierra Leone to promote its $8-million-a-year slave doctor industry.

The result of this chaos, the Times report explains, is a situation in which entire neighborhoods of Freetown, the capital–not to mention more remote counties–receive absolutely no support from the government. There is no medical infrastructure whatsoever in numerous areas of the country, which means Ebola patients have no access to any medical professionals, protective equipment, or simple medications for fever such as Tylenol.

In response to the clear void in medical care, some communities are forming ad-hoc Ebola committees. The Times reports:

Laid-off teachers (all schools in this country are closed) race around on motorbikes, monitoring the sick. In some villages, informal isolation centers are popping up, with citizens quarantining one another, an incredibly dangerous ad hoc solution being performed without appropriate protection. (United Nations officials say this country is still short hundreds of thousands of protective suits.)

The method of diagnosis is often intuition. “If they walk in, their chances are good. If they have to be carried in, well…” explained one person working at an Ebola clinic, Komba Songu M’Briwa. To highlight even more the extent to which Sierra Leone’s citizens have had to provide for their own healthcare, an article in the Awareness Times, the nation’s largest newspaper, noted this week that beauty queen Miss Sierra Leone has taken to visiting the slums of Freetown and providing food and medicine for the orphaned “street children” who have lost their families to Ebola.

Officials believe that preventing risky behavior is the only method that will truly stop the virus. This would require Sierra Leoneans to change much of their culture, in which it is common to interact via touch and burials involve contact with the dead. Experts told the New York Times they believe “seventy percent of new cases here… are directly linked to traditional burials.” While Ebola denialism, which was largely contributing to the rise in cases towards the beginning of the outbreak, appears to have diminished, now experts believe that targeting behavioral changes is the only way to slow the wildfire spread of the contamination.