21 May 2015 - A year into Sierra Leone’s battle against the Ebola virus, the country is making progress in its journey towards recovery, although much remains to be done to ensure access to basic healthcare for the most vulnerable citizens, Christian Aid says.
The outbreak was first confirmed in Sierra Leone on 25 May 2014, two months after arriving in neighbouring Guinea. Twelve months on, Sierra Leone is still some way from being free of the virus that has infected 8,600 people and claimed over 3,500 lives there.
Nevertheless, the situation has improved significantly in recent weeks. With the rate of new infections at an all-time low, the focus has shifted from emergency response to early recovery.
“Sierra Leone is finally showing signs of a returning to normal,” said Christian Aid’s Programme Manager for the Ebola Emergency Response, Alpha Sankoh, based in Freetown. “Infection rates have been consistently low lately, but the road to zero is a bumpy one: earlier this month we went eight consecutive days without a new case, but this week new cases have resurfaced. Consequently, we still have some way to go.
“Although the global response to the public health emergency was slow at first, the Sierra Leone government and international community have played a commendable role in the fight to contain the epidemic. At this critical stage in the recovery phase, Christian Aid urges them to prioritise the restoration of severely under-resourced primary healthcare systems and to invest in water and sanitation facilities, maternal and child health services, and vaccination programmes against preventable diseases.”
Christian Aid is calling for social and economic support to be given to Ebola survivors, their families and hard-hit communities. It wants to see Sierra Leone’s traditional healers equipped to play a bigger role in the Ebola response and trained to help control and prevent the spread of infection.
“Acting immediately on these priority areas is instrumental for ending transmission of the virus, for supporting the most vulnerable people caught up in the crisis and for ensuring sustainable recovery for our healthcare system,” Alpha Sankoh said.
This month Christian Aid is rolling out projects across all these areas of focus, as part of the second phase of its Sierra Leone Ebola response. Its local partners will refurbish 20 community health units, upgrading their water and sanitation facilities, with an emphasis on marginalised rural areas.
In three districts Christian Aid will train 150 traditional healers to become ‘community health volunteers’ who can detect and refer suspected Ebola cases to medical facilities. Local partners will give livestock, seeds, tools and training to over 500 Ebola survivors, women widowed by the virus and other vulnerable individuals in farming communities, to help rebuild their livelihoods. And some 120 unemployed young Ebola survivors will receive vocational training.
Alpha Sankoh said: “Sierra Leone’s health system is extremely weak and there is a huge amount of work ahead to get to zero cases, to re-establish confidence in services and to ensure access to basic healthcare for those who desperately need it. Maternal and child health, immunisation programmes and malaria control must be prioritised.
“Poor water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) conditions pose a critical challenge to the effectiveness of the Ebola response, especially in this transitional phase towards recovery.
Christian Aid urges the Government of Sierra Leone, humanitarian agencies and donors to give primary attention to improving WASH conditions, especially in health facilities and schools in very poor rural areas and urban slum neighbourhoods.”
“Sierra Leone is now at risk of other outbreaks: the rainy season has started, bringing increased threat of malaria, cholera, measles and other preventable diseases, such as polio, tetanus and diphtheria. We are pleased that vaccination services that were halted during the outbreak have now been resumed. Nevertheless, we will continue to support our local partners to lobby local and national government to promote quality health service delivery.”
Over 300 health workers in Sierra Leone have been infected by Ebola and over 220 have died, according to figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO). WHO and other agencies have now devised strategies to boost Sierra Leone’s medical infrastructure.
Welcoming the Government of Sierra Leone’s health sector recovery plan, Alpha Sankoh highlighted the need for sustainable income streams to finance stronger services: “The Ebola crisis presents an unparalleled opportunity to develop long-term strategies that can generate significant resources to build a more resilient national health system from within,” he said.
“Christian Aid believes these strategies must include reviewing Sierra Leone’s policy on tax incentives for multinational corporations: these were worth £158m in 2012, 10 times the national health budget. A robust and efficient tax system is vital if the country is to raise greater tax revenues and, ultimately, create better public services for its poorest citizens.”
Where needed, Christian Aid will continue to support quarantined homes and survivors with food and non-food items. The charity recently distributed educational materials and supplementary food parcels to over 2,000 orphans and vulnerable children from Ebola-affected families, to encourage their return to school: classes nationwide finally resumed in April, after an eight-month closure triggered by the state of emergency.
For further information, contact Tomi Ajayi on 020 7523 2427 or email@example.com. (24-hour press duty phone: 07850 242950.)
Notes to editors:
1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 50 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects.
2. Christian Aid’s core belief is that the world can and must be changed so that poverty is ended: this is what we stand for. Everything we do is about ending poverty and injustice: swiftly, effectively, sustainably. Our strategy document Partnership for Change explains how we set about this task.
3. Christian Aid is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 130 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance, advocacy and development. Further details at http://actalliance.org
4. Follow Christian Aid's newswire on Twitter: http://twitter.com/caid_newswire
5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid visit http://www.christianaid.org.uk