Getting to zero: Ebola and the danger of complacency
The decrease in Ebola cases is encouraging, but more needs to be done, says our advocacy officer Isotta Pivato in Sierra Leone
Mar 22 2015
It’s been a year since the World Health Organisation confirmed an Ebola outbreak in Guinea, which spread quickly to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Since then, approximately 14,000 people have been diagnosed with Ebola in the three affected countries, and around 10,000 have died.
Today, the number of Ebola cases in all three countries continues to drop, but as I sit here in Freetown with the Action Against Hunger team there remains a sense of foreboding.
We are concerned that the welcome decrease in Ebola cases this year might create a dangerous complacency among the local population, the authorities, and the international community alike. Liberia, which was to be declared “Ebola free” in the next 20 days, has just confirmed a new case of the virus.
The Government here in Sierra Leone, with the international community, is now slowly planning the scale-down of the emergency response. This implies also reducing the number of Ebola health centres, with greater focus on recovery. Sierra Leone’s President has lifted some of the emergency measures that were in place – such as movement restrictions, markets ban – to reduce the social and economic stress these measures had undoubtedly imposed on an already vulnerable population.
But we are nervous. In February, here in Freetown, more than 700 households were put under quarantine following a confirmed case of Ebola, and several districts that had enjoyed 21 days without an Ebola diagnosis, such as Moyamba, have seen a resurgence in the virus.
A three-day ‘stay at home’ order will come into force in Sierra Leone later this week, and for the next three Saturdays, in a last-ditch attempt to get to zero.
These non-isolated incidents are a frightening reminder that the emergency is not yet over and there is still much to do to ensure these West African nations reach, and maintain, a status of zero cases.
Continued investment must be made to ensure that the emergency response addresses remaining challenges, in particular to strengthen community ownership in the fight against Ebola. A community-led approach has proven to be effective in controlling the spread of the disease. To not only get to zero, but to maintain it, the government and implementing partners must focus on ensuring preventive measures continue to be implemented by the population to stop the human-to-human transmission and end the heartbreak Ebola has wrought.
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