Soap And Pamphlets: With Anti-Ebola Patrols In Sierra Leone
Teams of volunteers were combing the country to try to stem the spread of the virus during a recent three-day quarantine.
FREETOWN — After a compulsory three-day quarantine, life has mostly returned to normal here in the capital of Sierra Leone, and elsewhere around the West African country in the center of the Ebola outbreak.
According to the Ministry of Health, 22 new cases have been identified and 60 bodies of Ebola victims have been discovered in the West of the region, which includes Freetown. They were immediately buried.
But the goal of the controversial confinement operation of the six million inhabitants of Sierra Leone was mostly to inform the population in order to slow down the epidemic, which has already killed more than 560 people in the country.
For three days, in deserted streets, patrols of volunteers wearing white T-shirts displaying a "Kick Ebola" slogan, alongside the UNICEF logo, traveled the country aboard trucks loaded with bars of soap and information sheets about the virus.
Christiana Massaly, the head nurse of the West district in the Freetown headquarters, was aiming to reach her target over the weekend: to cover more than 400,000 homes. "We have more than 1,000 teams on the ground, each including a health care professional, a teacher, a young person and a member of the association," she says.
The operation was launched with difficulty last Friday, especially because there was insufficient material.
Alpha Sissay, a community worker at a health center in Regent, a village located in a mountainous rural area a dozen kilometers east of Freetown, is nonetheless sure of the utility of his mission. He operated with the same team for three days — a medical and social worker, a nurse and two teachers.
Wash, wash and wash
At daybreak Saturday, after following a steep path surrounded by lush vegetation, he and his team stopped outside Harulde Makayah's house.
This elderly woman with braided hair has basic notions of the Ebola virus. But Jeneba Sisay, the medical and social worker, makes clear to her how quickly the virus can be transmitted via physical contact. She also explains the importance of washing hands, and urges anyone who sees a member of the family showing signs of the disease to use gloves or plastic bags to care for them.
"Some would like more soap, but the government decided there would be only one bar per home," Sissay explains.
On the other side of the street, outside a concrete house, it is again a question of soap. Prince Kanu, a teacher, describes how to properly wash hands and, most importantly, dry them by shaking them without wiping them.
"We touch our face with our hands more than 100 times per day," Sissay adds. "The virus can be transmitted through the mucus membranes of the eyes, the nose, the mouth but also those of the vagina.”
Prince Kanu explains how to remove gloves or plastic bags used when touching an infected person: They must be turned inside out before burning them.
By now in Regent, the population is particularly well aware of the dangers. Besides the daily discussion programs the national radio station SLBC broadcasts for its listeners, punctuated by some of the dozen songs on Ebola, it was from this village that Olivet Buck originated.
Buck was a doctor who died after being infected by a patient. She worked at the Lumley Street health center, in the Wilberforce neighborhood. Located on the heights of Freetown, Wilberforce houses embassies and barracks, but Lumley Street looks like a slum.
Outside his house, Thomas Vandi, a bulky 39-year-old, explains in a deep and resounding voice that he has had enough. "We can't stay inside all day. We must go out to earn a living and feed our family."