Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ebola: The impact on daily life...

Ebola. It comes up in every conversation in Freetown and is undoubtedly the number one topic these days. There is obviously more going on in Sierra Leone than Ebola but still it dominates our conversations. It now dominates our lives. That is because Ebola is seen as a threat to the country. Ebola has been confirmed in all but one district in Sierra Leone. There are now 757 confirmed cases, of which 22 are in Western Area (Freetown). It is no surprise that daily life in Freetown now revolves around the Ebola outbreak. 

There are posters in the streets displaying symptoms of Ebola and instructing people when to go to a health facility. There are buckets with chlorinated water outside of every restaurant, supermarket, shop, government building, bank and health facility in Freetown. People no longer shake hands or hug. People greet each other by knocking elbows or with a quick nod. There are vehicles with loud speakers driving around town sharing Ebola messages. Radio stations are talking about Ebola non-stop. SLBC hosts talk shows that revolve around Ebola and shows documentaries about the outbreaks in Zaire. NGOs have re-programmed and their work now revolves around Ebola prevention, contact tracing and management. You can't go anywhere in Freetown without realizing that Ebola is real.

Of course this is good: it increases sensitization, hopefully encourages early presentation to health facilities and keeps people up to date on the current situation. Of course, there are also many aspects of the outbreak that have negatively impacted life in Freetown. These are the hardships that people will need to endure during this fight. Most of the hardships are due to measures enforced by government to try to reduce transmission of the disease. All of these measures, have their consequences...

Schools were stopped early, summer schools have been cancelled and it is unclear if children can start school again in September. The Basic Education Certificate Examinations (BECE) have been postponed indefinitely. CDC travel advice alerts and airlines suspending flights led to a mass exodus of expatriates. This in turn means that hotels and restaurants are struggling to maintain business in Freetown. The President ordered for nightclubs and cinema halls to shut down which has led to a much quieter night life in the city and a loss if income for people running those facilities. Prices are going up for both food and non-food items as people stock up in case the government announces a 'lock down' in the city. Many people spend their time at home. Public transport has been affected as okadas (public motorcycles) are not allowed to ride after 7pm at night and many taxi drivers have stopped running their services due to the fear of catching Ebola. 

For the health care sector it is an understatement to say that the impact is great. Not only have we lost exceptional doctors and nurses in the outbreak, but the system itself has suffered greatly. Some hospitals have been left virtually empty due to a combination of health care staff and patients being too afraid to go to the facility. This inevitably means that patients end up staying at home, attempting to self-treat and hope they get better. Some will, other won't. It is no doubt we will see an increase in deaths in the communities due to other illnesses. Some facilities are still functioning however, and their staff continue to provide the services needed. In some facilities the outbreak has led to increased infection control measures, an important aspect of care that has not received enough attention but in many, this is still lacking.

Honestly, it's hard to remember right now what daily life in Freetown was like before the outbreak. Obviously for many people it has always been a struggle. Most people live from day to day. Now the hardships are even greater. I am praying that someday soon life will get better in Freetown, and Sierra Leone as a whole. And my prayer is that my Sierra Leonean friends and colleagues will be filled with grace, peace, protection and endurance as they continue this fight.

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~ Act Justly. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly. micah 6:8 ~