Sullay Turay documents Sierra Leone’s Ebola outbreak

August 18, 2014

We are in daily communication with Sullay Turay, our lead representative on the ground in Bauya, Sierra Leone. The following is Sullay’s documentation of Sierra Leone’s first ever Ebola outbreak, which we encouraged him to write to help us communicate with everyone who supports Just Hope, for his own personal benefit, and for posterity.

On the 26th of May, 2014, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation announced that the first case of Ebola disease virus had been detected in Sierra Leone. Soon after, further cases were identified. All of these cases were in the Kissi Teng Chiefdom, Kailahun District, Eastern Province of Sierra Leone bordering Guinea, where the diseases started in early March.

The area of Sierra Leone where the Ebola disease virus emerged from is the stronghold of the main opposition political party [the SLPP, or the Sierra Leone People’s Party. SLPP leaders issued denial messages about the disease, saying it was a conspiracy by the ruling party, messages that discouraged many early victims of the disease from seeking isolation and treatment.]

These messages to the people are that Ebola virus is a myth and imaginations of the government to scare the people of the opposition stronghold to move into another area because of the upcoming census in December. They again said that the government is broke because the HIV Aids funding is finished, so they said if there is an Ebola [outbreak], the international community will come up with some monetary support for the government. They also said that health workers are government agents infecting the people with the Ebola virus to get them killed, so that the population in this area will be reduced. And because of the denial messages from the stakeholders and politicians, the people refused the health workers.

There were reports that Ministry of Health workers had been subjected to attacks in Kailahun and Kenema Districts. As a result, early attempts to control the outbreak were unsuccessful. A medical store was burnt down in Kailahun District, with claims that the drugs stored there are Ebola drugs the health workers are using to inject and infect people with the Ebola virus. Ambulances were prevented from carrying suspected cases into a treatment centre in Kenema District.

In Kenema, youth barricaded the hospital, [demanding] that if the treatment centre was not closed or relocated, that they will burn the hospital. [To dispel this group,] police used some force and fired teargas canisters. The Ebola spread into more chiefdoms and the whole Kailahun District and part of Kenema District. People who were infected with the virus moved to other districts for medical care and spread the disease to other areas in the country and to health care personnel. Relatives were infected by moving infected persons from the hospital to homes, and dead bodies were buried without using protective gears.

In Freetown, an infected lady’s family attacked a hospital with sticks, cutlasses and stones to remove [her] from the hospital. A few days later, the lady was found, but she died on the way back to the treatment centre.

Traditional belief is also causing the spread of the Ebola virus. People still kill and eat bush meat, saying boiling and cooking with palm oil can kill the Ebola virus. Ebola infected persons are taken to herbalists/native doctors, saying Ebola is a curse.

Not until the death of many health workers and the death of the only virologist, Doctor [Sheik Humarr] Khan, that people started to believe that Ebola is not a myth or an attempt by the government to get donor funds or political gains, but Ebola is real and it kills.

On the 30th of July, the government declared a state of public emergency, and Monday the 4th of August was observed as a day to stay home, pray and reflect on Ebola.

Submitted by Sullay Osman Turay