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Ebola, one year on: down, but not out

27 March 2015


Lest we forget: a mourner lays flowers in a new graveyard on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia, where a church service was held last Wednesday for families who lost members to Ebola

Lest we forget: a mourner lays flowers in a new graveyard on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia, where a church service was held last Wednesday for ...

A NEW three-day lockdown in Sierra Leone will begin today to try to eradicate the Ebola virus.

A year after the Ebola outbreak was first declared in West Africa, more than 10,000 people have died from the virus, and 25,000 have been infected.

There has been a significant drop in cases in the three countries most affected - Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia - in recent months, but a new spike in the past few days highlights the difficulty facing the region in finally eradicating the virus.

Liberia had not reported a new case for three weeks until a woman was diagnosed with the virus in Monrovia last week. There must be 42 days without any new cases for a region or country to be declared free of Ebola.

The programme manager for Christian Aid in Sierra Leone, Dr Steven Kaindaneh, said: "On 20 March, we had zero cases, but the following day there were five new cases, and on Sunday three new cases, so it is a very difficult situation. We are on a bumpy road to zero, and we have to stay at zero for 42 days to be Ebola-free.

"The target was set for the end of April, before the rainy season starts in May, but I'm not sure we are going to make that now.

"In the rainy season, there are many cases of seasonal diarrhoea and there can be cholera, and as diarrhoea is a symptom of Ebola, this will cause panic among people and it will be difficult for the medical staff. We need to prepare people to identify and treat seasonal diarrhoea, not panic."

He said the lockdown should be spread out beyond just the "Ebola hot spots" for which it had been planned.

He fears that complacency among people and the government was causing the outbreak to linger.

"Complacency is one of the things keeping us going with a few cases now. Until Ebola has gone from the whole of this country, and neighbouring countries, it is going to continue, and the bumpy road to zero will continue for some time."

The lockdown begins today until Sunday, but government officials have said that Christians will be allowed to attend Palm Sunday services. Many could not attend Christmas services because of the imposed quarantine.

Sidi Yaya Tunis, an official at Sierra Leone's National Ebola Response Centre, said that health officials would carry out house-to-house searches from 27-29 March to identify the sick in the north and west, where the virus is spreading fastest.

Elsewhere, where transmission is lower, officials will focus on education and prevention, he said.

The charity at the forefront of efforts to treat Ebola patients in West Africa, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), has repeatedly criticised the international response to the outbreak. In a report timed for the first anniversary of the confirmation of the outbreak, MSF - which has cared for 5000 Ebola patients over the past year - said that a "global coalition of inaction" allowed the outbreak to spread wildly for months before the response became more co-ordinated last autumn.

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