By Michael Solis, Trócaire Programme Manager, Sierra Leone
Nineteen months since the onset of the world’s worst Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Sierra Leone has been declared free of the disease.
This was after a period of 42 days — the length of two Ebola incubation cycles — had passed since the last person confirmed to have Ebola was cleared.
You can help support families affected by Ebola by buying the Gift of Seeds and Tools for Sierra Leone this Christmas: www.trocaire.org/gifts/seeds-tools
To celebrate the occasion, Trócaire organised an event with its 18 partners who have been vital to the Ebola response. The event was a moment of unity amongst partners and acknowledgment of shared achievements. Partners expressed their gratitude to Trócaire for its support and for enabling them to respond to the disease.
“Trócaire was so important because they did exactly what the people needed,” said Sister Mary Sweeney from St. Joseph’s School for the Hearing Impaired. “People needed things like blankets, mattresses, and food, and Trócaire was there to respond.”
“We thank Trócaire for staying in Sierra Leone when so many organizations were leaving the country,” said Susie Turay, from Access to Justice Law Centre. “Trócaire brought us all together and asked us what it is we could do to respond. When we came up with ideas, like offering psychosocial support in the communities,Trócaire provided us with training to make them happen.”
“Trócaire helped us design a model for developing the livelihoods of quarantined families,” said Ibrahim Fatu Kamara, Director of Action for Advocacy and Development (AAD). “We were then able to replicate that work in other parts of the country.”
Together with its partners, Trócaire helped support 1,750 quarantined households with food and non-food items, provided replacement packages to 720 decontaminated households, offered livelihoods support to 900 families, brought psychosocial support to over 10,000 people, and carried out awareness raising activities across three Districts to prevent risky behaviours that could promote continued transmission.
While a wave of joy and relief has spread throughout Sierra Leone, people still continue to sanitize their hands before entering buildings, and many still hesitate before embracing or shaking other people’s hands, which is now allowed. The population was willing to sacrifice a lot as long as it meant getting the virus out of the country, and now that the darkest days appear to be over, no one wants Ebola to return.
In Sierra Leone, Ebola infected 8,704 people and claimed 3,589 lives. Approximately 4,000 people survived.
Some estimates of the number of orphans (children who lost one or both parents to Ebola) reach up to 12,000 (Source: Street Child), with the average age of orphans being 9 years old.
Over 7,300 people have lost their lives to Ebola in Liberia and Guinea, the other West African nations affected by the epidemic. While Liberia was declared Ebola-free in September, Guinea, where the epidemic began, continues to see new cases. A reported lack of cooperation amongst the population in Guinea with restrictions on handshaking and consulting traditional healers has contributed to the continuation of cases.
The ongoing presence of Ebola in Guinea poses a threat to its neighbouring Sierra Leone, even as the country celebrated its declaration as Ebola-free on November 7th.
Now in the recovery phase, Trócaire and its partners remain focused on the other challenges facing Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone is ranked as the 183rd country on the Human Development Index, out of 187, and it is one of the six countries in sub-Saharan Africa with the highest hunger levels. ‘Multidimensional’ poverty and inequality remain extremely high, with 72.7% of Sierra Leoneans classified as multidimensional poor, one of the highest rates in the world. Even though the country is now Ebola-free, the population still struggles to cope with the impacts of Ebola on their livelihoods, communities and psychosocial well-being.
While many agencies are unclear of what their role will be in Sierra Leone in the recovery phase, Trócaire is committed to staying to promote the long-term development and dignity in a country full of people who are ready to improve their lives.
You can help support these families by buying the Gift of Seeds and Tools for Sierra Leone this Christmas: www.trocaire.org/gifts/seeds-tools