CHRISTMAS celebrations are being banned in Sierra Leone, as the
country tries to fight back against the Ebola virus. Numbers of
cases are still rising in some parts of the country.
With more than 8000 cases - including some 1900 deaths since the
start of the outbreak in the spring - it overtook Liberia as the
country with the most cases earlier in December, World Health
Organization (WHO) figures suggest.
A spokesman for the President, Ernest Bai Koroma, said that
public gatherings would be banned and soldiers deployed on the
streets over the Christmas period to keep people indoors.
Although Christianity is the minority religion - about 25 per
cent are Christian, compared with 70 per cent who are Muslim -
Christmas is still widely celebrated in the country.
The Archbishop of Canterbury visited Sierra Leone this week,
preaching in St George's Cathedral, in the capital, Freetown, and
meeting children whose lives have been affected by the virus and
are being cared for in an "interim" centre that provides
counselling and trauma services.
Archbishop Welby told the cathedral's congregation: "Your
suffering and your endurance across the afflicted countries have
echoed around the world. Those who fight Ebola have been named by
Time magazine as People of the Year. But it is not only
the medical teams: you lead as clergy and community leaders in
sharing the suffering and grief of the people.
"I find myself struggling to know what to say. If I am asked in
the next week what was the most important part of Christmas for me
this year, I will say it was to be with you here, and last week
with those suffering from war in the South Sudan."
The head of Christian Aid's humanitarian division, Nick Guttman,
has just returned from Freetown. He said that hotspots for the
virus were still moving around and, in some parts of the country,
including Freetown and the north, the number of new cases was still
"In other parts of the country, the situation has improved, but
the worry then is that people will get complacent. In the eastern
area of the country where we've been working, there were no cases
for a while, but now there are some cases again.
"A lot of very, very good work is being done, but more needs to
be done to help people deal with the stigma, which is as important
as building new treatment centres."
Christian Aid is working in quarantined areas where families had
been put in isolation after having some contact with the virus.
"We are providing them with essentials, food, and other
important items, and they told us they understood why they were
being quarantined, which is so important. But where that
information isn't understood, then there is fear.
"Even when the virus-spread has been reduced, there will have to
be work done on reducing the stigma of Ebola, making sure that,
when people have recovered from it, or come into contact with it,
they are able to be fully part of society again."
Sierra Leone is thought to have quarantined half its six million
population as it steps up the fight against the virus.
Mr Guttman said that medical personnel were working in the
streets, checking people's temperatures, and that washing and
hygiene facilities were available. "It's all being done calmly by
people, but there is lot of fear about the future," he said.
The charity is training local volunteers to enable them to offer
psychological support to survivors and their families, the
bereaved, and relatives of suspected or confirmed Ebola-virus
patients, to try to tackle the growing levels of stigma surrounding
December 2013: The Ebola outbreak began
with the death of a toddler in a remote village in Guinea, followed
by the deaths of his mother, sister, and grandmother. Mourners
carried the disease to other areas of Guinea.
March 2014: Ebola was confirmed in Guinea
and also in Liberia.
May: The WHO confirmed Ebola had spread to
July: An infected Liberian official died
in Nigeria; Liberia shut down its border crossings. Two US aid
workers were infected in Liberia, and were flown home. They were
treated with the experimental drug Z-Mapp, and made a full
August: Deaths passed 1000; WHO declared
Ebola a "national health emergency". The British volunteer nurse
William Pooley was flown back to the UK for emergency treatment
after contracting the virus while treating patients in Sierra
Leone. He also recovered.
September: The US announced it would send
3000 troops to west Africa to build treatment centres. The first
person to be diagnosed with Ebola on US soil died; two healthcare
workers who treated him tested positive for it.
October: The UK Government announced
health screenings at Gatwick and Heathrow. WHO figures showed
10,000 cases worldwide, and 4922 deaths.
November: The UN announced that cases were
surging in Sierra Leone owing to lack of treatment centres. Cases
were declining in Liberia.
December: Cases topped 11,000, with nearly