[Christian Aid] In the week of the first anniversary of the Ebola outbreak, Christian Aid has reaffirmed its commitment to help hard-hit communities in Sierra Leone at a time when complacency could jeopardise the fight to eradicate the virus.
Twelve months after the World Health Organisation first announced the start of the outbreak, the virus has infected nearly 25,000 people in three West African countries, of whom 10,300 have died. With nearly 12,000 cases, Sierra Leone is the worst-affected, according to the World Health Organisation.
Although the infection rate in Sierra Leone is falling, case numbers continue to fluctuate on a daily basis. Christian Aid has pledged to continue promoting life-saving health messages within local communities there, to encourage people – including traditional healers – to commit to embracing behaviours that could prevent new waves of the virus.
Christian Aid partners continue to distribute food and non-food items to vulnerable individuals, including Ebola survivors. This comes as Sierra Leone prepares for a three-day stay-at-home curfew, which will see 2.5 million people quarantined for three days starting from Friday 27 March, as part of the national government's bid to 'get to zero' new cases.
Christian Aid's Sierra Leone Country Manager Jeanne Kamara, based in Freetown, said: "The emergency has continued longer than we had ever imagined. It's not over yet, so complacency must not set in. That's why the Government of Sierra Leone last week extended the state of emergency by 90 days.
"Worryingly there are signs of complacency, as people start to return to old ways and former behaviours. For instance, we've seen instances of people going against the local 'Ebola bye-laws': these regulations are designed to reduce the risk of transmission.
"Sadly, there still remains a small percentage of people carrying out traditional burials on highly infectious corpses. The removal of buckets of chlorinated water stationed outside office buildings for hand-washing purposes is a cause for concern, as are the relaxing of stringent controls at district border checkpoints.
"That's why we are now firmly and squarely in the area of social mobilisation. This phase of the Ebola fight is looking at how to address gaps within hotspot areas, working through cultural leaders and traditional societies. Christian Aid is working in collaboration with others to move from messaging to having conversations with communities: we believe that in order to respond to the 'zero' campaign, communities must lead and own the fight."
As the outbreak enters the second year, Christian Aid is looking to address some of the impacts of the past year. This has included economic instability, interruption of schooling, loss of livelihoods, food insecurity, and limited access to maternal, infant and HIV-related healthcare.
Jeanne Kamara said: "Attention is now turning towards Sierra Leone's post-Ebola recovery. At the heart of this must be a commitment to rebuild the health system from the bottom up. This means not just strengthening hospitals and medical centres, but also ensuring that local populations have the capacity to respond to future public health emergencies.
"For long-term sustainable economic recovery, Sierra Leone must be supported to stand on its feet. In order for this to happen, multinational companies in the extractives sector must start paying their fair share of taxes. Domestic revenue, when managed well, will ensure that our government has sufficient funds to invest in providing basic essential services in the water, sanitation, health and education sectors."
Since the outbreak started, Christian Aid partners have reached over a million people in Sierra Leone with key advice on Ebola preventative measures and have given hygiene supplies to community health teams, including 200,000 pairs of disposable gloves and over 360kg of powdered chlorine.
Christian Aid is now urging the Government of Sierra Leone to continue to emphasise the need for infection prevention and control measures within health facilities.
"In order to protect health workers and patients from future infections, proper hygiene practices must be in place, such as those relating to water supplies, hand-washing, adequate training of medical staff, sanitation, sterilisation of materials, waste disposal and the use of personal protective equipment. Targeted investments must be made in these areas," said Jeanne Kamara.
An update from the Anglican Alliance on the Ebola response of Anglican and Episcopal partners with the Churches in West Africa is to follow next week.