I have never washed my hands as many times like in the last few days nor had I gone this long without shaking someone’s hand or getting a hug.
Welcome to Sierra Leone in the age of Ebola. From the airport to villages, the routine is water and soap at every corner. People nod to greeting gestures or do anything but touch one another.
Ebola has taken away our humanity – that urge to embrace and love another human being. Now all we do is gesture and talk, ActionAid’s Sponsorship Manager, Bridget Musa told me as I was introduced to her. She kept her distance definitely in frustration.
With 3585 people killed by the Ebola virus and thousands more affected, Sierra Leone is at a turning point. The last Ebola patient was discharged on 24 August 2015 and there is an upbeat mood that the deadly disease is finally on its deathbed. Sierra Leone has started counting down 42 days to be declared Ebola free nation.
A new culture of better sanitation has been created across the country – washing hands.
The streets of Freetown are busy – businesses are thriving again, taxis honking at every corner, beckoning customers. But this economy has been battered by the effects of Ebola and it will take a while to bring it back to its feet.
Almost every part of the economy and social sector has taken a heavy beating. The country’s legislator was reported to have lost close to a year’s work. The head of police this week said his force is struggling because it either lost members to the disease or just the fact that it could not recruit new policemen during the crisis. And this explains the current spike in insecurity in Freetown.
The tourism sector is all but gone and there is talk of strategies to revamp it.
A recent World Bank report indicates that 2/3 of families they surveyed are struggling to meet their food needs. The report also says many rural families lack the capital to re-open collapsed businesses.
There is good news in social services and health sectors. Before the Ebola crisis, the country had barely 20 ambulances and today there are over 200. Maternal health care services have increased with clinics and hospitals reporting 89% of children being born in their facilities against a 64% in the pre-Ebola period. Close to 87% of children are reported to have returned to school.
There is hope and you can feel this energy everywhere especially through people like Mohammed Sillah, ActionAid Country Director whose leadership led the organisation supporting 265,210 people that lived at the middle of the Ebola storm. ActionAid has been implementing various Ebola response programmes with 1600 trained community volunteers to raise awareness on Ebola prevention in seven districts where we are working. Some of our programmes on Ebola response include organising training for volunteers, mothers clubs, and youth groups, religious and traditional leaders on Ebola prevention, care and safe burial. ActionAid has also been engaged in providing much needed household items for homes affected by Ebola such as foam rubber beds, bedsheets, pillows and sanitary towels. We have also implemented social mobilization and health promotion, training of partners, staff and communities to make sure that everyone knows how to protect themselves from Ebola and where to go for help.
Ebola is on its back foot but its effects will continue to haunt Sierra Leone for a very long time.