Published On: Wed, Jun 24th, 2015

Surging efforts in Sierra Leone’s last remaining Ebola hotspots

Two times at military checkpoints on the 40-minute drive from Port Loko town to Kaffu Bullom chiefdom we are stopped and politely asked to descend from our vehicles. This is not a war zone, but it is a clear sign that the 21-day Ebola surge dubbed ‘Operation Northern Push’ has kicked off here in Sierra Leone’s Port Loko district, and also neighbouring Kambia. At each stop, we file through hand-washing stations and health screeners check our temperatures.

Kaffu Bullom chiefdom is in the heart of the current Ebola outbreak in the district of Port Loko with close to 30 cases in the past couple of weeks from one single chain of transmission. Sierra Leone has come a long way since the peak of the outbreak in November 2014, but still, the road to zero is proving rocky with a rise in weekly cases from a low of two cases in early May.

Almost all new cases have centred on the districts of Port Loko and Kambia (in between the capital Freetown and the border with Guinea). And so, UNICEF is working closely with the Government and partners like WHO, Restless Development, Oxfam and IFRC on what is hoped will be a final push to kick Ebola out of Sierra Leone once and for all. The district launch for the surge took place in Kaffu Bullom under the leadership of the Paramount Chief.

Pledging to end Ebola at the start of the surge in Port Loko district, Sierra Leone (c)UNICEF SL/2015/Laulajainen

Pledging to end Ebola at the start of the surge in Port Loko district, Sierra Leone (c)UNICEF SL/2015/Laulajainen

“As Paramount Chief of Kaffu Bulom I have called all the traditional healers and my section chiefs to join us here today to hear the important message about this last push to kick Ebola out of Sierra Leone and solicit their full support,” said Mr. Gbereh III. “Without the help of our community leaders we cannot win this battle. We need everyone to be part of this effort to end Ebola in Sierra Leone,” he added.

Traditional healers are one of the key influencer groups who have been reluctant to join the fight against Ebola, and some of the latest Ebola deaths have been from among their number. Community members frequently use the services of traditional healers in the chiefdoms where there are chains of transmission, which brings them into contact with a large number of sick people.

“Zero Ebola – Let’s End This Together” – one of the campaign tag lines – says it all. The only way Sierra Leone can get to zero is if community and religious leaders, traditional healers, and most importantly community members themselves all work together to end further infections. UNICEF has financed the recruitment of around 1,400 social mobilizers in Port Loko from partners, focusing on the priority chiefdoms.

While the social mobilization efforts are being dramatically strengthened, great strides will also be made to improve the conditions in the quarantine communities and homes to ensure families have all the services and psychosocial support they need during the 21-day quarantine period. Active surveillance, as well as the promotion of the free 117 hotline that logs alerts from community members and social mobilizers on suspected cases and secret burials, will also get a boost.

As we head back to Port Loko and stop at the same two checkpoints, walk to the hand washing station, get our temperature checked, I am thinking and hoping that these efforts will pay off so that we can celebrate an Ebola-free Salone (Sierra Leone) in the very near future.

Tommi Laulajainen is a Communications for Development advisor with UNICEF Sierra Leone

 

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