Friday, 23 January 2015

The human factor

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa came as a bolt from the blue, an apparently natural disaster. And yet, as we approach the anniversary of the first diagnoses deep in the bush of Guinea, new facts are emerging about how opportunistic politics and bad governance – locally and internationally – made the crisis far worse. This is particularly true in Sierra Leone.

The once narrow gap between Monrovia’s handling of the crisis and Freetown’s is now a chasm. Liberia’s new cases are dwindling into single figures, while Sierra Leone’s continue at an alarming rate. Many more now link the persistence of Ebola to Freetown’s disorganisation, lack of capacity and corruption. As our Feature,  The politics of Ebola, makes clear, the evidence cannot be ignored. The health ministry is one of the most corrupt: ghost-workers stalk its corridors and ambulance crews and nurses have to strike to get paid. More of Sierra Leone’s brave health-workers have died than in any other affected country.

The government presents statistics that underestimate the crisis. Public education about the disease, even in the worst affected areas, is appalling. But politicians have received millions to help them sensitise their constituents. When Liberia accepted that cremation of the dead was vital, Sierra Leone demurred. The main Freetown cemetery is now unable to cope and turning into a health hazard.

Both Liberia and Sierra Leone’s recent past has been marked by rebellions, civil war and chronic underdevelopment. So that does not explain why Sierra Leone’s situation is so dire.

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