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An open letter to HE the President and People of Sierra Leone

An open letter to HE the President and People of Sierra Leone

Makeni, 31st July 2014

His Excellency the President,


My heart pains for the lives of the likes of Dr Khan and several nurses and it also worries for the lives of my brothers and sisters in Sierra Leone. At this time in the history of Sierra Leone, no one man seems to have the ultimate answers to the latest challenge to our very survival as a nation. The present situation of the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) is tantamount to an epidemic or a plague, whichever one might want to use. The difference is that there has never been a plague of its kind in this country. In the Great Bubonic plague in London in the 17th century, the English had some experience at a lower scale prior to the big one and had some solutions that could immediately be applied and were able to bring to a halt the spread. On the contrary in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, this is a whole new dimension: No previous experience or lessons have been learnt in Sierra Leone. The reason for this is that the majority of the population continues to live in an information dark age and whatever happened in Congo in 1976, 1997,2005, 2012 and Uganda in 2000 was only shared by the few educate few with access to Satelite Television and Internet. No one in Leadership or governance in Sierra Leone assumed that someday, the commoner in the remote fringes of Sierra Leone could be the next victim.

We, as a country and region need to take some stocks of our life styles. One question that keeps coming to mind is “How did Ebola jump all the way from Congo over to West Africa and especially in the Southern Forests of Guinea?” The answer might be that the virus did not jump, but travelled by road or air in a human carrier or it was already living in bats in the area, but was dormant. Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family, pigs and some monkeys are known to be the main carriers of the virus. If people have been eating bats forever in these areas, what could have changed that caused the virus to come out of hibernation or dormancy? The method of capture and handling is a major suspect here. However, also of importance is that the virus is still in other bats, but which other species of bats? Can the virus be easily transferred between different species of bats? Unfortunately, we do not have enough information now to establish this, nor is this the time for discourse. Therefore, in accordance with the Precautionary Principle that we use in Environmental Sciences, we are better off to avoid all bats now while getting additional and correct information on this in the future. This is important especially knowing that Sierra Leoneans and West Africans live among bats in Schools, public places where they live in the ceilings and in large trees. Can you imagine if the virus were transmitted to other bats what would happen?


So what does the Ebola virus look like? In fact, it has a quite menacing look. To start with, it has a threadlike structure, which is characteristic of all filoviruses. The virons are tubular and have a diameter around 80 nm. To increase its menacing appearance, lipid bilayer anchors called glycoproteins, project 10 nm spikes from the viral envelope. They’re generally somewhere between 800 nm and 1000nm long.

The EVD spreads fast in an exponential manner. It has the capacity to wipe out a whole community and nation in months if not stopped. No stones should be left unturned. The EVD should not be here to stay! Small as they are, I wish I could just collect them all in one place and smash them under my boots and save my people this grief.

Mr President, even though we have lagged in our reaction towards this emergency, due partly to ignorance and partly to unbelief that such misfortune can visit Mama Salone, we thank you for taking such patriotic and magnanimous moves in the interest of your people. In your address of 30th July, 2014, among your many points I highlight two action points:

 Paramount chiefs are required to establish bye-laws that would complement other efforts to deal with the Ebola outbreak;

   Mayors, chairmen of councils and councilors are hereby required to support Ebola control measures in their local government areas;

In line with this, since the EVD is no respecter of professional doctors or nurses ( seeing the case of our distinguished Dr Khan and our admirable nurses who have laid down their lives for their beloved country and people), I, as a good citizen sees a need to contribute some ideas based on my various United Nations and other international experiences in emergencies and would recommend the following:

    1. All new arrivals in villages all over the country in the month of June should be registered with the Chiefdom Council Office or local court and must undergo interviews on their origins and destination movements in the last month. Based on the outcome, further action would then be taken. Suspected cases should immediately be quarantined for 22 days while under daily observation at the local CHU. AT the end of this period, a person can be certified “Cleared”.
    2. All deaths should be reported to and recorded by the chiefdom council or designated CHU. No dead will be buried without clearance from the local council. All dead bodies of suspected or confirmed cases will not be washed prior to funeral. Only persons with gloves, long sleeves should handle dead bodies. All residents of the same house of suspected or confirmed cases should immediately be quarantined.
    1. All families desirous of organizing public gatherings at funerals must have chlorine, soap or sanitizers for sympathizers. Police will have the power to intervene and stop such gatherings if they are not compliant.
    2. A body temperature control should be established at the entrance of all hospitals and clinics before out-patient registration to limit further contacts. Wherever possible an electronic system should be used to avoid delays.
    3. A body temperature control should be at all police check points leading to major cities.
    4. A body temperature control and hand washing facility should be at all entrance to public buildings, both private and government-owned and operated.
    5. Immediately, gathering in places where bats are known to live or frequent should be avoided and banned.
    1. Long sleeved shirts should be encouraged whenever travelling in public vehicles.
    2. All Okada riders should be encouraged to use long sleeves and gloves.
    3. All Okada riders should have disinfectant for use on helmets used by the public. The cost of this will be borne by the public by adding Le 200 to the fare. The Bank of SL should make coins available on the market again.
    4. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) of the Office of National Security (ONS) should monitor all world-wide emergencies and epidemics and prepare the population for any eventualities occurring in Sierra Leone.
    5. No bat, pig or monkey-eating business must be encouraged at all levels. These delicacies can be replaced with other foods like beef, chicken or fish.
    6. National sensitization should not be limited to front line chiefdoms alone but must now be national. TV reporting and the Open Broadcast Unit with images should be activated to show images of those living with the disease and those who have succumbed (while keeping their identity protected). People have to see and accept the reality of this virus as there are so many doubting Thomases and this is cause for the failure of the efforts to stop the spread to date. It has been reported in text messages received from Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS) on the 30th July that 121 cases have survived the disease. Can they share with the entire nation how that happened? For example, ORS is today common and anyone can stop Cholera spread in its early stages because information wa shared. We can learn from this approach if MoHS can be open soonest.

Even though these may not be the only applicable measures, Your Excellency will agree with me that the implementation of these and many more will go a long way to ensure EVD does not come to stay, else there will be none of us left to tell the story to our children and future generations of West Africans. The Ministry of Local Government, Ministry of Health and Sanitation, that of Information and Broadcasting should all ensure the dissemination of these measures, while funds are made available for some of these simple hand tools.

Let me use this opportunity to thank all Development partners, nationals and NGOs working to stop this virus. May God in his infinite mercies protect the rest of Sierra Leoneans from this disease and others that continue to ravage a poor and vulnerable people. May it return to wherever it came from and forever hold its peace. Amen.


Ing. Francis H. Lahai, BEng, MBA, MSC
Concerned Civil Engineer and Environmental Specialist.

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