From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

Playing Politics with Cholera in Kenema Sierra Leone?
By the Awareness Times Team
Aug 30, 2012, 17:17

There is an ongoing deception being practiced at the highest echelons of the Government Ministry of Health & Sanitation (MOHS) seemingly in collaboration with officials of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Sierra Leone. This deception has seen a deliberate policy of suppressing the facts about the Cholera Outbreak in Sierra Leone particularly in the Kenema District. If the MOHS and WHO official information is to be believed, Cholera only struck Kenema this week and nobody has as yet died from Cholera in Kenema. However, these are blatant untruths. Cholera has been ravaging Kenema for at least three weeks now with deaths recorded right at the Government Hospital in Kenema City.


Awareness Times has spent the last 4 days quietly investigating the circumstances of Sierra Leonean citizens who have died in Kenema over the last three weeks from what has been listed down to be a so-called ‘Diarrhoea & Vomiting’ at the Kenema Government Hospital. Armed with our irrefutable facts from sources at the hospital who prefer to remain anonymous, we yesterday Wednesday 29th August 2012 confronted the Kenema District Medical Superintendent who is alleged to be part of those who suppressed the reality of the outbreak. His name is Dr. Samuel B. Seisay.


We first asked Dr. Seisay as to whether he was aware that according to the MOHS and WHO, Kenema is supposed to have been “Cholera free” for the past three weeks despite the alarm raised by Awareness Times in our August 10th 2012 edition that Cholera was rampaging Kenema.


Dr. Samuel B. Seisay, has now confirmed to the Awareness Times that indeed contrary to the WHO and MOHS information, the first cases of Cholera attack were reported in Kenema on 9th August 2012, which was the day before we published that Cholera had attacked eleven people in Kenema.


According to Dr. Seisay they had earlier been advised to be proactive and put modalities in place to deal with any Cholera outbreak as Freetown was reporting such cases. Dr. Seisay explained that before and during this period, they were admitting cases suspected to be ‘Diarrhoea and Vomiting’. He said on 9th August 2012, a Cholera Isolation Unit was established in the district and the first set of Cholera cases were tested and proved positive.


He maintained that long before this date, they had been receiving patients with such symptoms but because there was no Cholera Testing Kit in the entire district to detect Cholera by then, they had labeled them as ‘Diarrhoea & Vomiting’.


The Medical Superintendent confirmed that a number of people have died of ‘Diarrhoea and Vomiting’ in the district but that they could not diagnose if they had died of Cholera because by then, “we did not have a Cholera Testing Kit”.


Medical Superintendent Seisay disclosed further that they will be holding an update meeting today 30th August, in order to brief members of the public on the precise statistics of Cholera cases recorded so far in the district.


For his part, the Primary Health Care Supervisor for the Kenema Government Hospital, Mr. Michael Vandy, also confirmed to Awareness Times that “five people have died so far” of “Diarrhoea and Vomiting”. He declined to comment on the reports that Freetown had instructed them to actually lie that over the past three weeks, nobody had died from Cholera symptoms in Kenema.


Also contacted yesterday was the Director of Disease Prevention and Control (DPC), Dr. Amara Jambai at his desk in Freetown. He was continuing to insist that prior to August 27th this year, there were no Cholera cases in Kenema.


“There has been no report of Cholera case in Kenema district, except for one case involving an eight year old boy that was reported on Monday 27th August this year” Dr. Jambai contradicted Dr. Seisay and Michael Vandy who are both stationed in Kenema.


Front Page of Friday August 10th 2012 Edition of Awareness Times


It is well known that Awareness Times is a highly political newspaper and most of its lead articles are political in nature. However, for our Friday August 10th edition, we decided to publish a screaming banner headline about the Cholera outbreak in Kenema after our correspondent reported to us the seriousness of the situation.


It can be recalled that it was after our banner headline that State House was to declare an Emergency in the country. Curiously, the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with WHO officials, then proceeded to release information claiming that Kenema was not suffering from Cholera even as people continued to die from Cholera symptoms in the district.


Our correspondents monitored for the last one week as WHO and MOHS released false information misleading the country that Kenema was Cholera-free. After two more people died at the Government Hospital of what was obviously Cholera in Kenema, bringing the total deaths to six persons as of last weekend, this newspaper’s team had enough and confronted some Kenema district medical and nursing officials last Monday evening.


“We got seriously queried the last time when your newspaper came out with that lead story about Cholera in Kenema. The Minister was said to be very furious with us and so we have been forced to list the deaths down as due to ‘Diarrhoea & Vomiting’ rather than Cholera,” one of the Kenema hospital staff informed on condition of anonymity.


It appears that President Koroma was only alerted as to the severe extent of the illness from various newspaper reports. Sources say that behind closed doors, he had expressed dissatisfaction with the ministry officials. As a result, the Ministry has been on a deliberate policy to downplay the seriousness of the number of infected and dead patients.


In the case of the outbreak in Kenema, we have learnt that senior ministry officials informed that Awareness Times was simply raising a false alarm and there was no Cholera in Kenema. Well, as now stated both on and off record to us, there have been numerous cases of Cholera and also a few deaths from Cholera right at the Government Hospital in Kenema in the last one month. We hope the MOHS and the WHO will correct their statistics to reflect this sad fact. Afterall, did someone not lecture recently that Cholera was not a political issue? Why are some folks still playing politics with Kenema’s Cholera?


Meanwhile, the Minister of Health & Sanitation is reported to have this week taken formal leave of the Ministry staff. Haja Zainab Hawa Bangura has also said goodbye to the President. She will be taking up her new appointment at the United Nations.

© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.