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We Can’t Afford to Deal with Ebola Again, Cleric in Sierra Leone Says, Expresses Fear

Beneficiaries of a Caritas Freetown project aimed to rehabilitate Ebola survivors in the country.

A Catholic Priest in Sierra Leone’s Archdiocese of Freetown who was at the forefront of the fight against Ebola during the world’s worst outbreak of the disease in 2013 says the West African country does not have the capacity to fight the disease, which has already been reported in neighboring Guinea.

Guinea declared a new Ebola outbreak on February 14 when tests came back positive for the virus after three people died and four fell ill in the country.

The 2013-2016 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, which killed 11,300 people with the vast majority of cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone started in Nzerekore, the same place the current infections have been reported.

In an interview with ACI Africa Wednesday, February 17, Fr. Peter Konteh who is the Executive Director Caritas Freetown in Sierra Leone said news about the Ebola outbreak in Guinea has sent fear among people who were still learning to cope with COVID-19.

“The outbreak of Ebola in neighboring Guinea has scared local people in Sierra Leone who are already living with fear because of the presence of COVID-19,” Fr. Konteh told ACI Africa.

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He added, “This is the same manner in which in February 2014, Sierra Leone got the news of the outbreak of Ebola from this same republic of Guinea. In fact, the virus started at the same place it has started now and within the twinkle of an eye, it had spread to so many places.”

The Sierra Leonian Cleric said that with the news of a fresh outbreak in Guinea, the memories of the devastation that was caused by the virus many years ago “have started lurking in the minds of the poor and vulnerable population, especially women and children.”

He shared the fear that swept through the country when reports emerged that a military officer had the virus shortly after the February 14 reports of infection in Guinea.

“The other day, people heard about a military man who had symptoms similar to those of Ebola and they were very scared. Luckily, the man underwent tests and found to have some other ailment,” Fr. Konteh said.

Since 2016, when health agencies declared that Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal were free of Ebola, Caritas Freetown has been catering for survivors of the disease, which left many with life-long health complications.

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According to the statistics that were provided by Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Sierra Leone was the most hit in the six West African countries that recorded Ebola cases, with a total of 14,124 suspected, probable and confirmed cases and 3,956 deaths. It was followed by Liberia, which recorded 10,678 suspected, probable and confirmed cases.

According to Fr. Konteh, over 4,000 survivors have been left to battle permanent health complications and loss of dignity in Sierra Leone, with about 1,500 victims living in the country’s capital, Freetown alone.

During the February 17 interview with ACI Africa, the Cleric, known for his zeal in creating international awareness during and after the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, said that the country cannot afford to handle another Ebola outbreak.

“We are already at a very bad place owing to COVID-19. As a country, we are struggling with the huge economic turmoil that the pandemic caused us. We don’t know what we would do if we were to deal with Ebola again,” said Fr. Konteh.

He says that Sierra Leone lost many health officers, including some of the country’s best doctors in the fight against the 2013-2016 Ebola outbreak.

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Other health practitioners, the Cleric shares, have lost their lives at the frontline of the fight against COVID-19.

“Our health facilities are overstretched at the moment. We lost very good doctors the first time we had to deal with Ebola and many more have been lost in the COVID-19 pandemic. We don’t have the capacity to fight two menacing wars at the same time,” he told ACI Africa February 17.

To curb the spread of Ebola, the World Health Organization (WHO) is reportedly working with health authorities in Liberia and Sierra Leone to beef up surveillance and testing capacities.

Fr. Konteh told ACI Africa that Caritas Freetown has also embarked on sensitization programs to create awareness among the people concerning the new danger of contagion they face.

“Having dealt with Ebola before, we know what we are facing at the moment. We know what we did last time to stop the infections in West Africa. We haven’t been caught off-guard this time,” the Caritas official told ACI Africa February 17.