Sierra Leone renews Ebola campaign | Africa | DW | 19.02.2015
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Africa

Sierra Leone renews Ebola campaign

In a bid to reduce new Ebola infections to zero by April 15, Sierra Leone has embarked on a door-to-door search of suspected cases. But there are questions on missing Ebola funds.

Sierra Leone on Wednesday launched a door-to-door search for "hidden" Ebola patients. Dozens of healthcare workers were deployed in remote parts of Port Loko district, east of the capital Freetown.

Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, an activist with the Society for Democratic Initiatives (SDI) in Sierra Leone told DW the increase in new cases of infection could be attributed to non-compliance of safety regulations on Ebola. These include unsafe burials and patients being hidden from the authorities.

"My hope is that the authorities would be able to enforce the regulations and ensure that the numbers don't go up as they did recently, the activist said.

The campaign which will last for two weeks follows a larger operation last December in which hundreds of volunteers knocked on doors across the west of the country in a campaign dubbed "The Western Area surge".

According to Abdulai, a lot of people are scared and don't want to let their loved ones who are sick go to Ebola treatment centers – this has caused a lot of spreading around. "It's an issue of misperception and continual education and awareness."

Sierra Leone Ebola doctor and volunteers dressed in medical gowns.

Sierra Leonean health workers are aiming for zero cases by mid-April

Sierra Leone has seen more than 11,000 Ebola cases and 3,400 deaths during the epidemic which has ravaged West Africa.

Rush to reach zero cases

Reducing the number of new Ebola infections to zero in the three worst affected countries; Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone is possible, the UN Ebola coordinator David Nabarro told the General Assembly on Wednesday (18.02.2015)

Nabarro however stressed that the zero goal can only be achieved "if local communities stop unsafe burials and healing practices that involve human contact". He said that while each week there are 10 times fewer cases of Ebola in West Africa than last September, preventing the final 10 percent of infections, about 120 to 130 new cases may well be the hardest part of the response because "it's like looking for a needle in haystack".

According to the World Health Organization, there were 128 new confirmed cases of Ebola in the week to February 15.

A team of Ebola health workers lift the body of a patient on to a stretcher.

The UN says the fight against Ebola has reached a "turning point"

Guinea reported 52 new confirmed cases; Sierra Leone had 74 new cases, 45 of them in the capital Freetown while Liberia reported 2 new confirmed cases.

More than 9,300 people have so far succumbed to the deadly virus which has infected over 23,200 people since the outbreak began more than a year ago.

Ebola funds misuse

The United Nations will publish a report this week on how it has spent funds for the Ebola response mission (UNMEER). This will be the first time the UN is accounting for the money according to a top official.

"This week we are going to show you how transparent the operations of this fund have been. We will publish a report about what is being done with all the contributions," Nabarro said.

Sierra Leone is struggling to explain the disappearance of more than $3 million (2.6 million euros) which had been donated to fight the epidemic. The discrepancy was revealed in a report presented by Laura Taylor-Pearce, Sierra Leone's auditor general in Freetown last week.

It said Sierra Leonean ministers had lost track of the emergency funds and there was no paperwork to support the contracts. "The loss of funds could result in a reduction of the quality of service delivery in the health sector," the auditor warned.

An Ebola health worker carries the body of an infant.

Identifying sick or dead persons will get harder as the numbers fall

The missing funds were reportedly given by institutions and individuals, not from the United Nations. Civic activist Abdulai described the scandal which has been trending on Twitter under the hashtag "Ebolagate", as a disagreement between parliament and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). "It clearly undermines the credibility on the fight against corruption," Abdulai said.

He said Ebola was a national issue that had killed many people and for funds set aside to fight the virus to disappear without a trace showed the "insensitiveness of the political elite".

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