By Amin Kef sesay
Over the past weekend, medical staff at the 34 Military Hospital at Wilberforce succeeded in curing six patients diagnosed with the dreaded corona virus disease. The achievement is very significant in the light of the thousands of corona virus deaths that are reported in the UK, USA, and Brazil daily for the past two weeks.
Knowledge is wealth; experience gained practically is the most invaluable form of knowledge. The success of the medical team at the 34 Military hospital in successfully treating the corona viral disease has everything to do with the vast wealth of experience that was gained by the military as frontline medical fighters in the war against the 2014 to 2015 Ebola disease outbreak, working in partnership with USA’s Center for Disease Control, and the Chinese medical teams that were sent to Sierra Leone to help in the fight against the Ebola disease.
It is good that the President on seeing the danger posed by COVID-19 did not panic but like a seasoned battle commander decided to immediately put in place combat measures to take the fight to the enemy in the military believing that the best form of defense is offense.
Why the 2014–15 Ebola epidemic ravaged us so disastrously was a combination of unpreparedness, a weak health system and lack of knowledge about the disease and how to confront it medically and clinically.
In the aftermath, numerous analyses showed that many of the 28 000 cases and 11 000 deaths in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia could have been prevented with stronger preparedness at the national and international levels and a faster, more effective response.
A strong and supported health workforce is central to a robust health system. At the onset of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, many frontline staff lacked appropriate training in emergency preparedness and response. Several health workers operated in unsafe environments with inappropriate equipment and without adequate pay, which affected their readiness, safety, motivation and the quality of care they could provide. Within this context, more than 800 health worker infections were reported.
Thus, first, and foremost, and we owe this to the former Government, what Sierra Leone with the help of our international health development partners has been doing since the end of the Ebola outbreak has been strengthening core capacities to prevent, detect and respond to outbreaks, with commensurate domestic and, where needed, international investments.
Secondly, Ebola taught us that we must remain vigilant and forward-looking, implementing well-accepted control measures when an outbreak hits but also expanding these strategies to areas at high risk of infection.
When we found the courage and strength after months of fear to confront the Ebola virus disease, what we undertook most robustly was basic control strategy, and its refinement focused on rapid case identification for isolation, treatment and care, contact tracing, community engagement and mobilization, safe and dignified burials, effective infection control; and laboratory testing. Those strategies combined brought us to zero and helped us to maintain zero until the outbreak was declared over by WHO in October 2015.