We are celebrating now that Sierra Leone is free from Ebola. Although communities have returned to normal for quite a while in Sierra Leone, this announcement is still like a breath of air. I believe it should be a day of reflection and remembrance for the people lost, for those orphaned and infected, a day of thanking God that the virus is over, and a day of singing, chanting, and dedicating messages and gifts to our Ebola response personnel, donors, and our Ebola heroes and heroines – the survivors.
We must, however, be vigilant and avoid complacency, particularly as I fear neighboring Guinea is still recording a few cases. This signals a crucial threat to us in Sierra Leone. If people are complacent, we shall see the return of Ebola.
I hope that this declaration does not mean a return to new cases, as happened in Liberia after that country was declared Ebola-free. We need to continue safe and dignified burials. We must also continue with projects to remind people in communities via radio, religious places, and house-to-house visits that Ebola is still a threat, so as to make people stay calm, cautioned, and vigilant prior, during, and after declaration day in every community. Plan International’s young people have started this already and can continue with it if supported.
Young people fear
Despite our relief, it should be noted that young people still have fears relating to Ebola survivors and the virus’s after-effects.
I spoke to friends and colleagues, and Siddy, 19, told me, “I am still afraid of insubstantial or false sources of information regarding the Ebola survivors having the virus in their system and whether they can infect others. We were first told that survivors should avoid sexual intercourse for 90 days or use protective devices, but we are now told that should be 180 days, and that there has been no evidence of an Ebola survivor infecting others. This could make people lose trust in medical personnel.”
The fears continue about Ebola after-effects. 18-year-old Munirru said, “I pity and fear for Ebola survivors if they experience Ebola side effects such as blindness, malnutrition, and so on. Something must be done urgently to address such things.”
The ebola recovery phase
Plan International’s Ebola recovery should target young people and children, particularly Ebola survivors and orphans, who have suffered greatly during the Ebola menace. Young people are a key player in the Ebola recovery phase.