After a year and half when Ebola killed almost 3,955 people in Sierra Leone, the World Health Declaration that our country is Ebola-free will be welcomed. It has been long-awaited.
Our lives came to a standstill during the height of the crisis. Ebola attacked the socio-economic, political and cultural life of the country, as well as people’s ability to work and their health. But we are now allowed to hope that children and communities in Sierra Leone will go back to normal. Schools have reopened, businesses across the country have restarted.
Healing will take time
Since the first case of Ebola was discovered in Sierra Leone in May 2014, Plan International Sierra Leone has been complementing the government’s effort to contain the virus in the country.
We raised awareness of Ebola in remote communities through vital lifesaving messages on community radio stations. When the situation worsened in July 2014, Plan International extended its Ebola response programmes across a wide area, including places we had not previously worked.
We mobilised over US$16.4 million supporting health centres, water and sanitation in schools, child protection and psychological aid to affected children. Raising awareness at community level and collaborating with the office of the First Lady of Sierra Leone to work with cultural and traditional leaders and change behaviours around burials helped us to save lives.
The impact of Ebola on children and communities will last long after the Ebola-free declaration
However, in Sierra Leone, the health sector needs rebuilding and strengthening, enrolment in school will have to increase, and basic social services such as safe drinking water and good sanitation need to improve. The trauma created in the minds of the people will take a little longer to heal.
Working on a bright future for children and their communities
Even as we celebrate the declaration of Sierra Leone as Ebola-free, we are still at risk. Ebola is not over yet in neighboring Guinea. Therefore, surveillance is critical for the coming months in order to avoid a collapse of the gains that we have made.
As we move into the recovery phase, Plan’s International strategy is focusing on child protection, ensuring all children affected receive the appropriate support and are able to live in a nurturing environment. Plan International will also continue to support boys and girls to learn in a safe and secure school environment that promotes quality education.
Our recovery response will also contribute to rebuilding national health systems and socio-economic resilience to prevent future outbreaks.
The impact of Ebola on children and communities will last long after the Ebola-free declaration. We need to continue to mobilise adequate resources to support the recovery strategy. And because it is not over until we achieve an Ebola-free situation in Guinea, safe practices and vigilance must be kept on.
Plan International in Sierra Leone was here before and during Ebola. No doubt we will be here for a long time after, with a long-term vision and joining hands with all partners.