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
"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
"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
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.