doubts obstruct efforts to contain Ebola in Sierra Leone
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[January 21, 2016]
By Umaru Fofana
FREETOWN (Reuters) - Community fear and
suspicion in Sierra Leone are obstructing officials' attempts to stop
the spread of Ebola, health reports showed on Wednesday, after the West
African nation reported its first cases of the deadly virus in months.
The discovery of a case last week, only made posthumously, was
announced a day after the World Health Organization said
transmission had ended in what had been the only country yet to be
declared Ebola-free - Liberia.
Sierra Leone had been declared officially free of transmission two
The new death was a setback for the region seeking to end a two-year
epidemic that has killed more than 11,300 people, and it was
followed by a second case on Wednesday, heightening fears of further
Internal health reports seen by Reuters showed that at least 50
people linked to Mariatu Jalloh, the 22-year-old student who died
from Ebola on Jan. 12, and who were potentially exposed to virus
have gone missing. At least a dozen of them are considered at high
risk of infection.
Last week, just three contacts were reported missing.
One of the health reports noted: "Community very uncooperative and
unwilling to direct us to the missing contacts".
They also referred to "great resistance" to a program to vaccinate
locals who were potentially exposed to the virus in the Northern
Province, a remote area near the Guinean border where Jalloh had
traveled before falling ill.
The reports show that suspicion toward health officials, one of the
aggravating factors in the disease's early spread nearly two years
ago, is still dogging attempts to end the epidemic.
Some conceded, however, that such incredulity is understandable
given the apparent failure of local officials to follow basic health
protocols with the last case.
Sierra Leone was supposed to be in a 90-day period of "heightened
surveillance" but Jalloh was examined by an official without
protective clothing against the virus.
"I cannot believe Ebola is back in Sierra Leone!" said Zainab
Thorlie, a resident of the capital Freetown, cursing under her
breath. "I think the health workers at the hospital made a bad
situation potentially terrible."
Health sources familiar with the reports who sought anonymity said
that the number of total contacts has increased to over 200 people,
from 109 quarantined last week.
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One high risk contact sought by authorities is a sheikh believed to
have fled the Northern Province by boat to Freetown, possibly with
his wives who are also missing. He is Jalloh's stepfather.
Some fear the virus will reach the capital, where the disease spread
rapidly in late 2014 as ambulances struggled to fetch the sick and
the main graveyard burst its limits with the dead.
At the time, army officials from former colonial power Britain
helped bring down case numbers by setting up a series of command
centers and the National Emergency Response Centre (NERC) in a
building once used to try civil war criminals.
But NERC is now shut and most international medical workers and
soldiers have gone. On the walls of Freetown's twisting streets,
painted anti-Ebola slogans designed to motivate locals to fight the
disease are peeling off.
"I think the dissolution of NERC was untimely," said retired civil
servant Foday Kallon.
A Western aid worker, speaking on condition of anonymity said money
was part of the problem. "Government agencies are being asked to
come up with a full (Ebola) response but there's very little funding
for that sort of thing," he said.
(Additional reporting and writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Joe
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