, 23 August, 2020 / 10:55 PM
The leadership of the development and humanitarian arm of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) has, in a report, explained why it is challenging to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Sierra Leone.
“The health system is quite fragile and weak. I don’t want to sound alarmist, but we have one of the worst health systems in the world,” CAFOD’s Country Representative in Sierra Leone, Kayode Akintola, has been quoted as saying in a report published Tuesday, August 18.
Enforcing COVID-19 measures in the West African country is also a challenge due to the poor living conditions of a majority of the population who, the official says, “live below the poverty line.”
“We have heard the health officials talking about social distancing, but you can imagine how difficult it is to distance when the houses are so cramped together,” Mr. Akintola says and adds in the August 18 report, “In slums you could have ten people living together in one room, in a zinc shelter.”
Hand washing in itself, he says, “is very challenging since many houses have no running tap water.”
Making reference to the poverty levels among the country’s population, the CAFOD official notes, “The reality is people must work to eat in this country. They live a day after another. So, when we talk in terms of lockdown or self-isolation, it becomes very difficult for so many people.”
The country’s external debt, which he says was at least US$1,691million in March, is also hampering COVID-19 prevention efforts as the government has to divide available revenue between development programs and the repayment of the debt.
“The existing debt has created a huge impact as the debt is a huge burden on government spending and support to fulfilling development objectives,” he says, and adds, “The government must spend $50million paying this debt in 2020” compared to the budget for healthcare, which stands at US$68million.
Cancellation of the existing debt, he notes, would among other things, “Accelerate on social spending and help the government with the space to spend in the fight against COVID19, which is putting a huge burden on government financial arrangement at the moment.”
Sierra Leone, a country of 7.65 million people has recorded at least 1,956 COVID-19 cases, 1,506 recoveries and 69 related deaths.
The pandemic, the CAFOD Representative in Sierra Leone says, is another challenge the natural resource-rich nation has to overcome after the Ebola epidemic, which lasted almost two years, devastating “the economy, social systems, (and) almost every aspect of life.”
“Sierra Leone is a country that has gone through a lot – civil war, the cholera outbreak, mudslides, seasonal flooding. Ebola was an epidemic here. It’s a country that has faced every kind of disaster, both man-made and natural disasters,” he laments.
Amid the past challenges and the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Akintola says the situation “is not hopeless. We can still save lives.”
To curb the spread of the pandemic in the country, officials of CAFOD have continued their Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programs in the COVID-19 context, besides carrying out sensitization campaigns on various forums, the Country Representative says.
The leadership of the 58-year-old London-based agency, which reaches out to people living in poverty with practical help regardless of their religion or culture, is also using faith leaders in the country to pass information to local communities on how to prevent COVID-19, Mr. Akintola says in the August 18 report.
“These are very worrying times, but with the community involved, we refuse to be overwhelmed by the odds that are against us,” he says and adds, “We defeated Ebola, and we know that by the grace of God we are going to defeat coronavirus.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa