Sierra Leone launched a new campaign Thursday to try to contain the spread of the Ebola virus. Initial reports -- describing the effort as a nationwide lockdown -- were wrong. Instead, the campaign is officially called the House-to-House Ebola Talk.
World Health Organization spokesperson in Sierra Leone Nyka Alexander spoke from the capital Freetown about the new campaign, kicked-off with a speech by President Ernest Bai Koroma.
She said the president is asking people to stay at home Friday, Saturday and Sunday so they’ll be available to meet “community sensitization groups.” They’re going door-to-door to talk to families about Ebola symptoms, prevention, and what to do if a family member is sick.
“The government said they hope to reach 100 percent of homes. But WHO has trained-up some monitors. These are the kinds of monitors that go around in vaccination campaigns, as well. So, 100 monitors…will be spot checking about 24,000 homes so they can get an idea of how many homes are reached in the campaign.”
Local radio stations are part of the campaign with call-in programs with guests to answer questions about the disease. While the government said it wants to reach every home, Sierra Leone has a population of about six-million.
“It is ambitious and that’s why we’re saying you might as well aim high. The goal is very good. The idea of bringing people from the communities to be more engaged in the fight against the Ebola virus is very important,” she said, “If nothing else, just the fact that the campaign is happening is helpful.”
Alexander said it is not unprecedented. She said, “They had a stay at home prayer and reflection in early August, which went very well….people are allowed to leave their homes after hours to go get water…They’re allowed to be around their homes. They’re just not supposed to go out and travel and congregate.”
As for the response to the outbreak, the WHO spokesperson said, “The right things are being done. We just need more of it.” For example, more trained burial teams and treatment centers are needed. Also, more contact tracers are needed to determine with whom an Ebola patient may have had contact.
Regarding the mood in Freetown, she said, “You would never be able to tell there’s an Ebola outbreak. And that’s the thing. It’s life as usual for most people. But in the hot spots in some villages there are whole families that have died from Ebola and there’s a lot of sadness.”
She said to put the situation in perspective about 6,000 people die every year in Sierra Leone from malaria, while the Ebola death toll in the country is about 1,000 so far. Nevertheless, she said, “everyone needs to be aware so that they don’t become affected in some way.”
As of September 14, the WHO said the death toll from Ebola in five West African countries topped 2,600.