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Give Dr. Khan a Perfect Rest by defeating Ebola
By Joseph Dumbuya
Aug 7, 2014, 17:00
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The death of Dr. Sheik Umar Khan came as a huge surprise to some of us notwithstanding the fatality rate for Ebola which can reach ninety percent. 


Surprised the Minister of Health, Miata Kargbo had assured the nation that everything will be done to ensure Khan survives the disease.


Well, you may not excuse my gullibility for taking Miata too seriously, but you also had independent voices in civil society and the media sounding very upbeat about his chances.

A typical case in point is a report filed by the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBC) reporter in Kailahun on Tea Break a few days to his death.  He sounded overly optimistic about his improving condition. His optimism left some of us relieved that after all he will beat the disease.

His passing therefore came as a rude shock to a nation on the edge especially at a time like this when the Ebola campaign he led is spiralling out of control, with Sierra Leone becoming the new epicentre for the virus in the sub-region.

We will most certainly miss Dr. Khan not least because he was the only Sierra Leonean specialist in hemorrhagic fevers in the country. We will miss his selfless commitment to lead the Ebola fight notwithstanding the great risk to his life.  We will also obviously miss the unassuming manner he carried himself which endeared him to his colleagues and members of the public.


As we mourn his passing and celebrate his life, we should commit ourselves to honouring his memory by bringing the fight against Ebola to a quick and decisive end. 


One good thing that has come out of his death is that people - even denying cynics - are now taking the disease seriously. Members of the public are becoming increasingly sensitive to the threat pose by the disease by taking the necessary precautionary measures.


Hand gloves have become visible in town. Also, people are a lot more careful. I was pleasantly surprised to hear a lady say aloud dont touch as she made her way through the glass door into the Standard Chartered Bank last Friday.


I was trying to make my way out through the door at the same time as she was trying to get into the bank. This means somebody had to push the door for her to get in and for me to get out. I had to do just that since she had her hands up in the air and was not in any mood to touch the door let alone give it a push.  I guess she would have used her foot to push the door open if I was not there. 

I have had friends express fears about wearing helmets which is a requirement for riding on a commercial motor bike for fear of contracting the virus.  The riders understand the risks involve but they are adamant passengers wear them because they do want to get into trouble with the police.  The Police will ignore such risks and enforce the rule for the sole aim of extorting money from defaulters.

Also, following the death of Dr. Khan, I bumped into a friend, Jia Kangbai who   I had not seen for only God knows when, even though I had been reading his writings in newspapers. He actually saw me from a distance and called me in a very excited manner and with a broad smile on his face.


I was equally excited and I stretched my hand as I approached him but he held back and had his hand firmly to his chest as he kept repeating dont touch. I smiled and threw in a joke. He told me he is pleased I did not take offense.

On the part of the government, it took the death of Dr. Khan for the President Koroma to declare a State of Public Emergency. They say, it is better than ever. We now expect the government to follow through on its commitment by ploughing in the necessary resources both human and materials.


Also, under this state of public emergency we expect mainstream politicians especially MPs to spend a lot more time with their people to lend support to efforts in combating the disease.

That said I do not buy into the idea of giving money to politicians to do awareness-raising like we saw recently. With politicians you are bound to spend more for less as we saw recently when some hundreds of millions of Leones was dished out to politicians to do sensitization.


I think we will achieve a lot more with civil society, traditional and religious leaders at district and community level and the media.


The setting-up of a Presidential Task Force on Ebola with the President as chair is a welcome initiative. This means the campaign will be overseen by the President and as such attract the necessary seriousness it deserves.


With this structure in place, a review of existing task forces on Ebola should be done to avoid duplication, establish clearly defines roles and get rid of wastages. I know the Ministry has a lot of task forces which we may not need.


The Ministry of Health has to provide effective leadership which has been lacking since the outbreak was first reported in May.  Already, a lot of disastrous mistakes have been made. Recently the Minister of Health, Miata Kargbo told Paramount Chiefs that the outbreak caught her ministry by unawares. I was awe-struck to hear that and disappointed the chiefs did not take her to town for that.


It did not occur to her that she had been singing and dancing about robust preparations and counter measures long before the outbreak in the country.


In fact, when the outbreak was first mooted by Dr. Sylvia Blyden, Miata, her new found PRO and other Ministry officials spent more time demonizing her and defending shambolic preparations than focusing on containing the virus in Kissy Teng in Kailahun where the outbreak was first reported.


With the death of Dr. Khan the Ministry should take stock and focus on having things rights. This should start with the resignation Miata Kargbo, failing to do so the President should show her the door. This will give a fresh impetus to the campaign; the kind of momentum that is needed to reinvigorate it.


I am not casting any blame here, even though I see nothing with blaming people for the shambolic manner this campaign has been handled. If anything, it would put those concerned on their toes which is what is needed now. Patronizing public officials with praise-singing will not help the Ebola fight,You hate Miata that is why you are criticizing or blaming her for the failings of her Ministry. I do not hate her. As a matter of fact I like her and that is why I criticize to have her on her toes and help her succeed. I understand the mindset of people here, when you criticize someone it is interpreted as you hating that person. Far from that!


So, Im saying she should do the right thing and take responsibilities for the monumental failings of her Ministry and resign. For once people should take responsibility! 

Moving forward, the campaign should focus on getting out the messages thick and fast to the public in an accurate and consistent manner.  In times like these, the Ministry should focus more on getting the messages out and not on the deniers many of who are mere detractors.


It must be told that denial is not limited to the illiterates. There are many among the educated literates. I find this group to be the most dangerous because they sound so bullish and loud in peddling falsehood about the virus.


This reminds me of a jingle on Radio Democracy which goes like this:  sef nor for touch the body (referring to corpse of Ebola victims) penti plenti. This translates into English as The corpse of Ebola victims should not be touch repeatedly.  This is misleading because it is implying that it could be touched a few times.


Also, as a good will gesture, I would like to plead with the President to lift the ban on the Monologue Programme. This will boost very significantly the awareness-raising campaign on the disease.


There is no question Monologue is hugely popular. It is by far the most popular radio programme in the country. What is more, it has the widest coverage in the country and will allow for far more diverse set of guests. Additionally, more Sierra Leoneans out of the country listen to it than any other radio programme. This will serve as an important medium for fundraising.


We underestimate Monologue at our peril.  Yes, it has its own shortcomings. The obsession with Sylvia, Diana and Logus is so, so off-putting by every indication.  More so, when Tam-Baryoh report on himself and then discuss personal issues he has with this people. I took this up with the producer of the programme, Silas recently.  This notwithstanding, we still need Monologue onboard as the advantages of doing so far outweigh doing otherwise. 


Another important issue relates to the safety of health workers. There is no gainsaying their safety is key to the fights against virus. The death of Dr. Khan and several other colleagues has left them shaken to the core. Morale is bound to be low.  As a result, no efforts should be spare in boosting morale.

As important first step, no efforts should be spared in ensuring the working environment conducive and stimulated.  Also, the undue harassment and intimidation of health workers by members of the public must STOP and NOW.

Additionally, their remuneration should reflect the risks associated with the job - pay packet and allowances should be improved. I do not think $ 20 is too much for allowance. 


Some of the mistakes of health workers which have lead to their death have been blamed on long working hours which affected their concentration. This needs addressing.  Also, we owe it to the health workers who have lost their lives to take care of their children including educating them up to university level.


Lastly, but by no means the least, it is important to ensure that the Ebola Referral Centre in Kenema is at par with the one managed by MSF in Kailahun. This is crucial in assuaging fears among health workers. It is important to note that while the centre in Kailahun is yet to register any death among its staff, there have being several at the Kenema Centre.  This speaks volumes about the quality of the facility and the working environment at the two centres. This is unacceptable!

© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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