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A FEW PRE-DOMINANT EBOLA WISHES

By: Winstanley.R.Bankole Johnson

Perhaps in the same way we cheer and spur on our athletes and entertainers in the heat of their theatrics, so too should we be spurring-on all those who in one way or another are involved in the fight against the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). Our situation now is not as hopeless as it was at the initial stages of the outbreak, though perhaps with more resolute co-ordination of efforts between and amongst the Burial Teams and Lab Testing sites on the one hand, the Isolation and Treatment Centers on the other hand; far much more could be miraculously achieved.

Operationalization

Thankfully our collective pleas for additional Isolation and Treatment Centers have been positively answered, and they are springing up in virtually every major district headquarter town, though staffing all of them with the appropriately skilled personnel remains a critical challenge. But we’re getting somewhere. However, without diluting the ultimate operational robustness, I will urge that much greater emphasis be placed on their rapid  operationalization (as a matter of expediency and so as not to be overwhelmed by the seeming exponential threat the EDV continues to pose), than on their structural  permanence. This is because if anything, whilst this sad chapter of our national history cannot easily fade away, we would not wish to be regularly reminded of it by those physical structures in the future.

More Mobile Laboratories

From my personal glimpses, my first pre-dominant wish is for a the setting up of “more” Laboratory Testing locations to catch up with and match the increased collection blood and swab specimen samples, as it would appear the much improved turnaround time of five-six hours (from the previous 2-4 days) “….is still not good enough” – courtesy of Dr. Abdul Kamara, our government Specialist Hospital Laboratory Manager.

The good thing is that H.E the President  is aware of the numerous challenges confronting every sector of service delivery in the fight against the EVD, and has also made a special requests to the British Prime Minister, for the provisions of “more” Lab Testing locations  – if possible for every major city and or township to mitigate result delays. Where that is not feasible, consideration should be given to providing every district headquarter town with at least one “Mobile Laboratory” and from which periodic forays could be made into the surrounding townships. 

Putrefaction

And nothing makes that request more expedient than the threats posed to inmates at homes where corpses cannot be touched by bereaved family members even beyond putrefaction, without the appropriate “Ebola Free” certification by the authorities. In the latter regard, it should be noted that the inherent delays by the Teams to collect of swabs aside, their problems become compounded as follows:

(1)  Those who insist on a collection of swab samples from their dear departed end up getting a raw deal and would appear to be deliberately so punished by the Swab/Burial Teams for insisting on their fundamental traditional rights. The Team would “allegedly” not show up until days away, without regard for environmental considerations, and when they eventually do, it is with the unchallengeable results of “Ebola deaths”.  Even where the contrary is reported, the corpses would have been in such advanced stages of decomposition, as to dissuade family members from according their dear departed decent traditional farewells

(2)   For those who quickly agree to the express carting away of their deceased family members’ corpses, there has neither been a reported instance of any tests samples being subsequently confirmed as Ebola negative, nor of the retrieval and return of such corpses to the family thereafter for the regular traditional farewells.  They would all have been mixed up in graves anyway.

And it is against the backdrop of the above two entanglements that the Burial Teams will continue to owe their disparaging attributes and commentaries (irrespective of their “perceived” commendable deeds), unless the following wild postulations representing my next pre-dominant wish are clarified. 

Postulations

Now if in one breath we are warned that the EVD is most virulent in the corpses of its victims, then how come that that the corpses of deceased medical workers can be so selectively and securely de-contaminated and released several days later to their family members so as to be accorded decent burials – without posing further serious environmental threats? And if that is possible for corpses of deceased frontline Doctors and other senior medical staff, why discriminate against all other citizens? Why are the corpses of others citizens who die in their homes not also securely de-contaminated and preserved pending return of their swab tests several days later, instead of leaving them to decompose and create further environmental hazards? Are people playing tricks and cashing-in on this disease to make the government increasingly unpopular?

Furthermore if unlike the personal effects of deceased EVD victims, the hospital beds and mattresses they once occupied are not burned out, but securely de-contaminated to allow for fresh admissions, then how do they do it?  Would the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) have us believe that 53 years after our Independence, and for a calamitous situation like ours, those trained over a period of just one week as Burial Team members could outperform existing Funeral Parlours and the government Mortuary in the de-contamination and preservation of EVD corpses? Could the opening of a separate, complimentary but temporary “EVD Victims’ Mortuary” add any value to government’s efforts and provide comfort to an already traumatized populace?

A public explanation from the EOC to all the above questions is necessary, not only to further educate the masses and eradicate all unfounded fears about the disease based on ignorance, but also to leverage on a possible synergy between existing Funeral Parlours and the Burial Teams that could extensively dilute the stranglehold of the latter on the government. 

New Burial Grounds

One important aspect apparently being continually overlooked by the EOC is acquisition of new and alternative burial grounds/ space specifically for victims of the disease, given their recent exponential growth. The present King Tom cemetery or a portion of it ( ALONE) for disposal of EVD infected corpses brought from as far as Waterloo to beyond the No.2 River axis is neither acceptable, nor sustainable.  In fact this matter ought to have received priority consideration, but as we say, it is better late than never.  And with the Burial Teams (both the SL Red Cross and under the EOC) now displaying such adept skills transfer and commendable performance as to register a zero % infection rate among their cadre to date, it might just be about time for the redeployment of  Dr. S.A.S Kargbo to where his professionalism could be better harnessed, which is my other pre-dominant wish.

Treatment Centers ToR

And if I have a word of advice for the EOC it is so that they can press government to actualize a sort of ToR between and amongst all Treatment Centers incorporating a firm commitment on each to never again turn away suspected EVD victims from their premises because of “a lack of space”, but to temporarily accommodate them until alternative arrangements could be made for their transfer to another Treatment Center. That is also a pre-dominant wish. What was served the international community in a recent BBC TV Focus on Africa coverage regarding the now late patient Francis was both appalling and traumatic, especially as the other treatment Centers at Jui, Police Training School (PTS) were not full to capacity. By the time the Emergency Hospital had a re-think and recalled the patient, it was already too late.  God alone knows how many lives have been so unnecessarily lost under such circumstances prior to the creation of additional Treatment Centers across the country.

Logistics Co-ordination

A final area where proper co-ordination by the EOC is essential is the management of logistics. This is becoming very important. Mr. Goajiah Head of the EOC appears fully aware of the prevailing challenges and even lamented over the matter in a recent TV programme, because invariably, when it reaches the “Peoples’ Court”, it is the government that ultimately comes out the worse for it. Ideally the proper thing for all donors to do should be to first contact either the EOC or the Ministry of Health direct to apprise them of their good intentions so that prior adequate arrangements could be made for shipment, clearance and storage of the consignments to ensure their ultimate optimum use. But to be whipped up by some queer patriotic zeal and be moved to ship anti-Ebola medical kits into the country without any prior consultations with any government agency, and then proceed to go ballistics in the international media by making a political storm about the government’s delay to honour the freightage over those consignments was in itself a national disservice.

These are indeed “extra-ordinary times” demanding equally “extra-ordinary decisions” and every little help will be worth the while in complimenting government’s efforts to defeat Ebola. But the fact that our country is in such serious throes does not mean all caution should be discarded. So without apportioning blame, and perhaps if no such guidelines already exist to date, it is yet my other pre-dominant wish that the EOC and government develop and circulate to all our foreign missions clear, concise and proper guidelines by which all Diasporan well-wishers should comply to avoid a repeat of the unsavoury coverage we received from the BBC (again) regarding the shipment of “very impressive” anti-Ebola equipments into the country, but the copy  title documents over which remained in the hands of an individual at State House who in fact has absolutely no bearing to the Ebola Fight.

All our major international donor partners are aware of the need for proper logistics co-ordinations; hence their standard practice of channeling all material and financial support through specific (UN) accredited organizations. And we should copy that example. Lonta!!

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