When Bishop John Yambasu spoke to a trauma healing workshop in June, he not only was worried about continuing isolated cases of Ebola in the Freetown area but also about how to ensure the post-Ebola challenges are met.
the church and ebola
The United Methodist Church and its partners have been actively responding to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa since it began. According to the World Health Organization, the deadly virus has claimed more than 11,000 lives in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.
Speaking to the workshop organized by the United Methodist Regional Missionary Initiative, Yambasu said the country was supposed to be focused on addressing acute post-Ebola challenges such as hunger, especially in the farming communities in the east of the country where Ebola first struck. The farmers used seeds intended for planting for food during the height of the Ebola contagion when farming and other movements were restricted. Those farmers needed seeds for the new farming season to fight off hunger from the lack of crops. Yambasu said hunger would affect education because children are unlikely to go to school hungry.
“We had gone over six days without any Ebola case in Freetown but we forget that Freetown shares a porous riverine border with Port Loko. But let there be a house to house search in Port Loko and Kambia. We need to mobilize many of our health workers to Port Loko and Kambia, stay there until we weed out all the Ebola patients even if it takes two months,” the bishop said.
The disease, which is reported to have begun late in 2013 in Guinea, returned to Freetown in June when a young man in the densely populated Freetown eastern coastal slum of Magazine Wharf reportedly visited his spouse who was quarantined in Port Loko, one of the two northern districts still struggling to contain Ebola. He returned to Magazine Wharf where he infected two people who in turn infected other people in the community and beyond.
A pregnant woman escaped the Magazine Wharf quarantine and went to stay with relatives in a neighboring community where she went into labor and gave birth at a local health center. She was taken to a hospital when she developed complications. She later tested Ebola positive. Local newspaper reports said 46 hospital staffers were quarantined after contact with her.
There were only five new cases in Sierra Leone the week ending July 18 compared to 14 in the previous week. Freetown, the capital still continues to register new cases although in fewer numbers.
Yambasu is concerned that if Ebola cases increase in the Freetown area, there is a probability that Ebola will disrupt the educational efforts underway after a long hiatus.
Sierra Leone Annual Conference’s Young Adults interim president, Senesie Rogers said authorities involved in the Ebola fight must not relent in giving out more information on Ebola. “...sensitization should not cease so that the consciousness of the children, youth and young adults will always be awake to the grim realities of Ebola, ” he said.
“The resurfacing of Ebola in Freetown sends a frightening signal to us because we are the most prone to contract the disease considering that schools and colleges are now reopened with limited restrictions on interactions among students,” Rogers said. He said heads of learning institutions must not relent in enforcing Ebola preventive measures. At the Albert Academy — the oldest United Methodist boys school in Sierra Leone — students were falling over one another when schools reopened Tuesday April 14, ignoring the ABC (Avoid Body Contact) of Ebola to access class lists that were displayed on the notice board.
Millicent Lavaly, a psycho-social specialist and a United Methodist has worked with hundreds of Ebola survivors and has heard stories from many of them. She is not surprised that people in affected districts are running back to Freetown. “Putting people in quarantine for 21 days and not providing for them all their needs may cause some people to run away. Some of them have been used to going out and fending for their dependants to survive. Restricting them without adequately supplying their needs — material, social and psychological needs can be cause for them to run away to places where their Ebola conditions are not known.”
Lavaly says it is a mistake to think people would only need food when they are quarantined. And for the most part, it is food that many organizations and agencies working with the Ebola situation have been supplying quarantined homes ignoring particularly the psycho-social support. A few do give psycho-social support like prayers and words of consolation to bereaved families, she said, but they usually do not give much time to that kind of support.
Lavaly also thinks that because of the great poverty level in the country, some people are putting themselves in harm’s way as a means of accessing benefits that Ebola survivors receive.
“On the whole, I’m afraid that fear is again returning to Freetown, given the backdrop of schools reopening. Some of us have maids coming to work for us who use the public transport which we have no control over,” Lavaly said, recalling a story one survivor told her about how he contracted Ebola from the sweat of someone in a public transport.
The National Ebola Response Center recently imposed a lockdown called “Operation Northern Push,” a final effort to eliminate Ebola from Port Loko and Kambia — the two districts still posing a challenge to ending Ebola. The 21-day lockdown ended July 7 but has been extended for another 30 days because of the successes of the operation in identifying and containing cases.
*Jusu is director of communications for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone.
News media contact: Vicki Brown, [email protected] or 615-742-5400.