Days after Sierra Leone enforced a 3-day curfew to fight the Ebola outbreak, Kamanda - one of Plan’s global youth advisory members – reflects on the impact it’s had on people living in his community in the north of the country.
From 19 to 21 September in Sierra Leone, we had to stay inside our homes; to sit and pray with our families for relief from the Ebola outbreak.
Nobody could move from one street to the other, with the exception of the response officials, and volunteers and health personnel educating residents about how to stop this deadly pestilence from eating into the fabric of our dear and beloved developing country.
Imprisoned at home
You can’t imagine how difficult it is to sit and lie down in one place without moving from your house, street or community. This is really 3 days imprisonment but crucial in saving the lives of residents of this country from the agony of Ebola.
My family of 27 sat at home listening to radio programmes, ate food (though there was little), prayed, played cards and sometimes watched movies using the computer given to me by Plan. On the third day, health workers came to tell us about signs and symptoms, prevention and control of Ebola - and soap was given to us for frequent washing of hands.
In some villages, people took to their heels into the bush. Some of my family in their village - my mum, step-mums and brothers - ran into the bush because they were misinformed that health officials would come to inject them, put the Ebola virus in their blood, and take away sick people to mix them with Ebola infected people.
But when they called me on the mobile, I allayed their fears by explaining to them the essence of the 3 days and what is expected of them towards combating the pestilence.
Hunger and thirst
As a journalist of our local radio station, Radio Bankasoka, a colleague and I were assigned to monitor what happened over the 3 days in the district.
People adhered to the President of Sierra Leone’s declaration that they should stay at home. But many were not happy because they were not guaranteed food or water. Many poor families went through all 3 days hungry and thirsty.
Even in the absence of Ebola, affording a meal a day is difficult for poor, extended families, let alone for 3 consecutive days. Household heads that were suspected of having Ebola were held and quarantined.
The sharpest thing that pricks my heart now is that children, especially those whose parents are victims, are suffering with no support. For example, in Gbom Samba community, 3 children lost their parents. In other communities, you could see children lie down on the ground hopelessly as a result of hunger.
Hospitals are empty
Tears ran from my eyes when I heard the report from my local radio station about 35 people dying of Ebola within the district. What could happen in a month, a year? It’s really awful.
People have abandoned the health centres with the fear that they will be given the Ebola virus and perceived as Ebola victims. They have lost confidence in the local health personnel. Even pregnant women and mothers of children under-5 no longer visit health centres. The government hospitals and other health centres are empty.
As of now, 81 houses have been quarantined in my district but security measures for the quarantined homes and treatment and holding centres are not strong.
For example in Borrp community, only 1 military person and 1 police officer are securing 5 quarantined houses of 31 people. I witnessed this in one of the chiefdoms in my district, and interviewed the health officer in charge.
Food is scarce in quarantined homes and treatment centres. Suspected Ebola victims continue to escape from these homes or centres spreading the disease countrywide.
An Ebola victim who escaped from a detention centre yesterday night explained to my colleague, while eating biscuits hungrily: “Food is not given to me since I was put into that place and I’m hungry; I need food right now.”
No one dared to touch him. The authorities were called, but the victim took to his heels and went into hiding. This is risky.
What will happen next?
Many suspected cases and Ebola victims have been traced, held and quarantined. I’m hoping there will be an absolute decrease of this deadly pestilence within the next 21 days and give us some freedom.
But I expect more deaths in treatment and holding centres and quarantined homes because victims of Ebola and suspected cases get no or hardly any medical attention and little or no food.
Children and poor people will continue to die of hunger and Ebola because they are vulnerable at this point in time.
We need foreign technical experts on Ebola brought into the treatment and holding centres,as residents no longer have trust in the local health personnel and have abandoned the hospitals.
People like me can help. Youth groups should be supported to embark on campaigns through radio and social media for people, especially pregnant women and mothers of children under-5, to visit health centres again.
Young people and children see what is happening in a different way - we understand our rights and the responsibilities of duty bearers and are ready to hold them to account.