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Life After the Lockdown in Sierra Leone

By Plan International USA

The following is the second in a series of blogs regarding Ebola in Sierra Leone from Kamanda, a Plan Global Youth Advisory Panel member in Sierra Leone.

Days after Sierra Leone enforced a three-day curfew to fight the Ebola outbreak, Kamanda – one of Plan’s Global Youth Advisory Members – reflects on the impact the virus has had on people living in his community in the north of the country.

From September 19 through September 21 in Sierra Leone, we had to stay inside our homes to sit and pray with our families for relief from the Ebola outbreak.

Nobody could move from one street to the other, with the exception of the response officials, and volunteers and health personnel educated residents about how to stop this deadly pestilence from eating into the fabric of our dear and beloved country.

Imprisoned at home

You can’t imagine how difficult it is to sit and lie down in one place without moving from your house, street, or community. This was really three days of imprisonment, but the step is crucial in saving people’s lives from the agony of Ebola.

My 27-person family sat at home listening to radio programs, eating food (though there was little), praying, playing cards, and sometimes watching movies using the computer given to me by Plan International. On the third day, health workers came to tell us about the signs and symptoms, prevention, and control of Ebola – and soap was given to us for frequent hand-washing.

Hunger and thirst

As a journalist for our local radio station, Radio Bankasoka, a colleague and I were assigned to monitor what happened in the district over the three days.

People adhered to the President of Sierra Leone’s declaration that they should stay at home. But, many were not happy because they were not guaranteed food or water. Many poor families went through all three days hungry and thirsty.

Even in the absence of Ebola, affording a meal a day is difficult for poor, extended families, let alone for three consecutive days. Heads of households who were suspected of having Ebola were held and quarantined.

The sharpest thing that pricks my heart now is that children, especially those whose parents are victims, are suffering with no support. For example, in Gbom Samba community, three children lost their parents. In other communities, you could see children lie down on the ground hopelessly as a result of hunger.

Hospitals are empty

Tears ran from my eyes when I heard the report from my local radio station about 35 people dying of Ebola within the district. What could happen in a month? A year? It’s really awful. People have abandoned the health centers due to fear that they will be given the Ebola virus and perceived as Ebola victims. They have lost confidence in the local health personnel. Even pregnant women and mothers of children under 5 no longer visit health centers. The government hospitals and other health centers are empty.

As of now, 81 houses have been quarantined in my district, but security measures for the quarantined homes and treatment and holding centers are not strong.

For example, in Borrp community, only one military person and one police officer are securing five quarantined houses of 31 people. I witnessed this in one of the chiefdoms in my district and interviewed the health officer in charge.

Food is scarce in quarantined homes and treatment centers. Suspected Ebola victims continue to escape from these homes or centers, likely spreading the disease even further. An Ebola victim who escaped from a detention center yesterday night explained to my colleague, while eating biscuits hungrily: “Food is not given to me since I was put into that place and I’m hungry; I need food right now.”

No one dared to touch him. The authorities were called, but the victim took to his heels and went into hiding. These actions are risky.

What will happen next?

Many suspected cases and Ebola victims have been traced, held, and quarantined. I’m hoping there will be an absolute decrease of this deadly pestilence within the next 21 days to give us some freedom.

But, I expect more deaths in treatment and holding centers and quarantined homes because victims of Ebola and suspected cases get little to no medical attention and little to no food. Children and poor people will continue to die of hunger and Ebola because they are vulnerable at this point in time.

We need foreign technical experts on Ebola brought into the treatment and holding centers, as residents no longer have trust in the local health personnel and have abandoned the hospitals.

People like me can help. Youth groups should be supported to embark on campaigns through radio and social media to encourage people, especially pregnant women and mothers of children under 5, to visit health centers again.

Young people and children see what is happening in a different way – we understand our rights and the responsibilities of duty bearers and are ready to hold them to account.

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