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Opinion: 'The lockdown of Sierre Leone won't have a significant impact in dealing with Ebola'

All the Ebola treatment centres in Sierra Leone are currently full; they simply cannot take any more patients, writes Darren Hanniffy.

Darren Hanniffy

THE FOUR DAY nationwide lockdown proposed by the Sierra Leone government in an effort to control the Ebola virus from spreading even further across the West African country is raising concerns for aid agencies like GOAL working in the region.

Called in an effort to help the government identify undetected cases of Ebola, the plan will see people in Sierra Leone confined to their homes from Thursday, September 18 to Sunday, 21 September.

While it is hoped that the move will help health workers isolate cases, there are a number of key issues that must be considered before the lockdown is put into effect.

Economic impacts

The government must consider the economic effect that a lockdown will have on people who rely on day-to-day earnings to support their families. More than 52% of the population in Sierra Leone live below the poverty line, and survive on a hand-to-mouth existence. Cutting off access to livelihoods and earnings that these people would normally receive has the potential to cause major problems for many families that have already suffered through a stressed economy.

The door-to-door calls proposed under the plan may result in the identification of more suspect cases of Ebola. However, this is an issue in itself considering that the healthcare system is already overwhelmed. All the Ebola treatment centres in Sierra Leone are currently full; they simply cannot take any more patients. New centres are needed.

Door-to-door

The proposed lockdown requires approximately 21,000 people to be deployed to make sure residents stayed indoors. Even if they do manage to recruit that many people, the government still cannot be sure that these measures would be effective or be acceptable to the population.

GOAL is also very mindful of the huge job that the Sierra Leone police department will have in controlling such a large scale operation. We are currently training 1,500 police officers in Ebola risk mitigation in support of their important work. The police are at the front line of the fight against Ebola and they deserve this support.

10644536_941060652577731_1026779933084437181_n Police officers being trained by GOAL. Source: Goal/Facebook

We welcome the fact that the government of Sierra Leone is taking decisive action in an number of areas in this rapidly deteriorating situation. Clear communication is key at the moment. The more households we reach with the right information, the sooner we can help calm a fearful and ill-informed population.

New centres needed urgently

The primary issue with the Ebola response remains a critical lack of funding for the construction of treatment centres in places like Freetown; and for the provision of the most basic personnel protective gear, such as gloves, aprons and chlorine, especially in clinics and health centres. More appropriately trained staff are also needed.

Meanwhile, the decision by a number of major world airlines to cancel flights to countries affected by Ebola in West Africa must be reversed. The movement of crucial supplies and health personnel into the region needs to be accommodated if we are to be effective in stopping the further spread of the virus.

10543641_934260129924450_3985514392551904762_n Kadiatu is holding a stating that she and her daughter have beaten Ebola. Source: GOAL/Facebook

While the government of Sierra Leone is to be applauded for its efforts, we don’t see the proposed lockdown having a significant effect in dealing with the problem. What is required is additional treatment facilities and staff with expertise, as well as the necessary supplies.

GOAL is doing all that it can with limited funding. We are scaling up where we can and we are investing all the resources available to contribute to the efforts. There is more that we could do with additional funding and it is for that reason that we have launched a public appeal for support.

Darren Hanniffy is a senior manager with GOAL. 

Read: Four day ‘lockdown’ planned to halt spread of Ebola in Sierra Leone>

Read: Ebola-hit Liberia bans sailors from disembarking>

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Darren Hanniffy

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