Dr. Samura Kamara Speaks Against COVID 19
My fellow compatriots, we are currently experiencing a very mysterious virus disease that continues to ravage the whole world, sadly without a known cure as of now. So far, its attendant ramifications are impacting adversely on our entire life support systems, i.e. our economies, our healthcare capacities and our interpersonal social and physical relationships.
As at now, we have lost and continue to lose valuable lives globally at unprecedented numbers. I wish to tender my deepest condolences to the bereaved families and relatives of all those who have passed on and are now within the veil. Specifically, I would like to mention my fallen fellow Sierra Leoneans in Sierra Leone, the UK, the USA, and the rest of the diaspora. They represent an irreparable loss of an invaluable life support machine. Our hearts are with their respective families and May the Almighty ever-living God grant them a peaceful and perfect eternal rest.
As at today, Wednesday, 22nd April, 2020, our country, Sierra Leone, which was the last in West Africa to be invaded by the invisible Coronavirus or COVID-19, has reported Sixty-one (61) confirmed cases;one (1) reported death; six hundred and eight (608) in quarantine; and six (6) infected persons fully recovered and discharged. I continue to pray fervently to the Almighty God to give us the wherewithal to quickly contain this COVID-19 pandemic, and grant the infected persons a speedy recovery.
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, this is not a time for politics nor is it time to apportion blame or point fingers. This is a time for us all to come together and defeat this pandemic with our individual and collective endeavours. It is also a time for well-meaning and patriotic Sierra Leoneans to provide objective observations on the current intervention measures that the Government is rolling out as a basis for providing genuine, useful and constructive advice for improved results. It is on the basis of this obligation, that I have taken this step to deliver this message to the Government, our development partners and the good people of this nation.
I note and commend the strides the Government is making towards the fight against the spread of Coronavirus. I especially commend all of us for being adaptive and compliant to the announced healthcare protocols. Nevertheless, interventions such as the declaration of a State of Public Health Emergency, the closing of international land, air and sea borders, as well as instituting lockdowns and curfews might not be full proof interventions, especially where they are fraught with varied exemptions and leakages; and where they are not supported by proven evidence of effectiveness in addressing the spread and containment of the Virus.
Notwithstanding these efforts, it is worrying that our Governmnet may have jumped into the fray to defeat the Virus without a comprehensive strategy in place, which appears to have put this Government in a panic mood as evidenced by the plethora of unplanned and not too thoughtful Regulations and measures. I believe that, as a country, which had earlier experienced a devastating epidemic, we had sufficient time from the day WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, on 29th January, 2020 to the 31st March, 2020 when we had our index case, to have developed a comprehensive response strategy and result-based implementation plan. This would have properly guided our risk mitigation and containment measures. So far, what we are seeing are largely kneejerk reactions. A good example is the just released mandatory regulation that everybody should wear face masks when in public. There are a number of concerns, including affordability, especially for those who do not have the means to provide for themselves, broad-based sensitization to promote knowledge and understanding of their use, and their medical quality. The question therefore is: Did our Government consider these concerns before imposition of this restriction?
In relation to the imposition of lockdowns by the Government, a very immediate concern for the majority among us, who are the poor, fragile and highly vulnerable, might not be about becoming sick, but going hungry during the lockdown without a human face. Many essential facilities have been shuttered or operationally restricted to curb the spread of the Virus. Incomes have dried up for many who rely on low-paid work for survival. We are experiencing job losses or workers lay-offs in the formal sector while our informal sector, which constitutes between 60-70% of all jobs, is witnessing a sharp depletion of savings and business capital, only to make ends meet. Indeed, what is happening to the poor, many for whom survival is an hour-by-hour or day-to-day struggle?
Many are hoping for charity and many are stigmatized, as, in the eyes of the providers, they are increasingly becoming chronic beggars. Consequently, lockdowns, especially in our own part of the world, though they may be necessary, cannot be a priority policy intervention largely because of their accompanying wellbeing impacts and the lack of resource capacity to appropriately mitigate these impacts, including providing basic necessities like food, water and electricity, and protection from abuse by the security apparatus. The just concluded 3-days lockdown as well as the ongoing partial lockdown have given credence to these concerns.
Fighting this pandemic does not mean that the rights of the citizens should be violated. The citizens must not be subjected to unnecessary molestation and harassments. While the Government will utilize the armed forces to assist with logistics and construction of needed make-shift structures, maintain discipline and enforce law and order, the Government should ensure that they perform those functions responsibly with dignity and respect for every citizen. The Government should bear in mind that, there is always a fine balance between fundamental human rights and the implementation of public health measures to contain a health crisis. There is no need to unleash brutality and threats for the purposes of causing mayhem to and intimidation of peaceful and law abiding citizens. THE FIGHT IS NOT AGAINST THE PEOPLE BUT AGAINST THE VIRUS.
Communication of government policies and actions on the pandemic to the public should be properly organized and coordinated to avoid inconsistencies in messaging, and creating confusion to the public. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be happening. Let the Government know that risk communication is different from political propaganda. The truth is that, you cannot lie about this virus. If you do, it will ultimately expose you while risking people’s lives.
My compatriots, the solution, against this background, points invariably to a number of considerations as we apply these and other interventions to fight the spread, and in the unfortunate occurrence of any full-blown attack, finding a lasting cure.
Firstly, to win the war against the COVID-19, the Government is encouraged as a matter of urgency to return to the drawing board and develop a comprehensive and effective response strategy that will guide us through the remaining period of this fight. Within this context, there is a need to mount an inclusive social mobilization initiative and a comprehensive health/medical intervention. The Government should get the MoHS to aggressively work on case identification, isolation, testing, and contact tracing.
Secondly, transparency, openness, accountability and honesty are crucial elements of efficiency and effectiveness in policy design and implementation. This appears to be absent at the moment. Government needs to be more open, transparent, accountable and honest to the people. This will strengthen the people’s confidence in what the Government is saying and doing. This is crucial for the success of social mobilization and getting the people’s buy-in. Thus, going forward, we must ensure that, the public is adequately and truthfully informed about all aspects of the pandemic including regular updates especially on announced infections, primary and secondary contacts.
Thirdly, the Government is encouraged to adopt an inclusive and all-embracing consultative social mobilization process, including with political, local community and faith-based actors. The Government is reminded that, as a valuable lesson in the fight against the Ebola Virus Disease, despite being a global pandemic, Coronavirus is invariably a local problem and therefore can best be dealt with by engaging and empowering local actors. Primarily, these include local councils, traditional administrations, religious bodies, civil society and social organizations, trade unions, traditional healers and secret societies. , media, musicians etc. These actors must be encouraged and facilitated to lead the fight in their various areas. The biggest lesson is that the fight against Coronavirus must not be seen as an exclusive preserve of the Government. Government must not be averse to a more inclusive and national approach. The fight against Coronavirus is a shared responsibility of everybody.
My compatriots, facts don’t lie, and dates don’t deceive. It was an open secret that during the fight against Ebola, a large number of members of the then SLPP opposition party, including the current President, were capacitated with unaccountable public funds to join the course.
Fourthly, and again drawing from our EVD intervention experience, our frontline workers are our doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers in any health crisis. We should be thinking of guaranteeing their safety through instituting appropriate Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC) measures, and also providing them with a financial and social safety net package that will motivate them to do their best in this fight while risking their lives.
Fifthly, and most importantly, this Government has the benefit of hindsight and must not fail to take advantage of it. However, the reality is that at a time when we are fighting war with an unseen and mysterious enemy, called Coronavirus, we are also witnessing a lot of poor judgments and wrong timing of events, including the launch of a controversial and confrontational COI report at a time when the President had just declared a State of Public Health Emergency as well as the arrest, detention and prosecution of someone who would have provided valuable support and insights to the Government’s efforts towards defeating this Virus. Unfortunately, we are also witnessing the demolition by the Ministry of Lands of donor funded public health project facilities being constructed by the Freetown City Council. When you are fighting a common enemy such as this pandemic, you do not open another battle front. If you do, you will only open the flood gates to unnecessary disruptions, unwarranted distractions, blatant rumors, and visible divisions that will break the much needed national unity.
Lastly, a strengthened and trusty relationship with the international community and our development partners is critical in all aspects for a successful fight against the Coronavirus and this must be made visible to the eyes of all Sierra Leoneans.
My fellow Compatriots, in concluding, let me encourage all Sierra Leoneans to abide by the rules and containment measures put forward by the Governmnet and the medical experts, both national and international. Let me enbolden you all to take ownership of breaking the chain of transmission in your respective communities by staying at home, unless it is absolutely neccesary to go out; by protecting your families and loved ones; by supporingt one another during these difficult times, and by providing for the less fortunate. Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad must remain hopeful that, this pandemic will pass and we shall live our normal lives again. To the Government, be reminded that, this Virus knows no political colouration, tribal lineage or regional allegiance. When it strikes, it is only the Almighty God that will keep us safe. Therefore, Government must keep the COVID-19 response apolitical and genuinely bring on board everybody to support in this fight at all levels. This was what the previous Government under the leadership of Dr. Ernest B. Koroma did under the Ebola outbreak. It is only when you bring everyone on board that this Virus will be defeated NOW. To our international friends, let me once again, extend my sincere condolences for all the souls that have been lost as a result of the pandemic. I pray that we will soon break this chain of transmission everywhere in the world.
Finally, my Fellow Compatriots, I have not waited for an invitation to do my own part as your humble servant and a patriotic Sierra Leonean. I have been doing what I can within my limited resources and the confines of the law to support the fight and I will continue to do so. I am very thankful to my teams and well-wisherswho are also doing the same. I am encouraging them to continue demonstrating this level of patriotism and national service. I am very much aware that my Party, the All Peoples Congress, through its various organs and networks, is greatly supporting the fight. I will continue to partner with my Party and all compatriots in providing the much needed support to fight the war against this ravaging Coronavirus.
Let me use this opportunity to wish His Excellency the President and family well in their period of isolation.
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