W&L Professor From Sierra Leone Speaks on Ebola
By David Zekan From the American perspective, the response to Ebola appeared prompt and necessary to some, while excessive to others. Many accused the media and healthcare professionals of fear mongering with their responses to the various cases of Ebola in the United States. However, W&L’s own Mohamed Kamara views the international response to Ebola in West Africa differently.
Professor Kamara grew up and was educated in Sierra Leone before coming to the United States to pursue graduate studies in French. Kamara described Sierra Leone as “far from Ebola free” and emphasized that it, along with the surrounding countries of Guinea and Liberia, was simply not prepared for the Ebola outbreak. Sierra Leone is still in the beginning stages of recovery from the civil war that plagued the country from 1991 to 2001. Although it has been almost fourteen years since the end of the civil war, Kamara stated that the country has made only one or two years of progress.
Ebola has both social and economic consequences for Sierra Leone. The movement of goods both within and into the country has slowed due to the government quarantine of the northern, southern, and eastern regions of the nation in order to prevent Ebola spreading to the western capital of Freeport. Despite these efforts, Freeport has become the epicenter of the disease due to the influx of people searching for resources. Professor Kamara explained that the quarantine has led to a scarcity of commodities, resulting in exponential price increases.
Ebola’s social consequences often go unnoticed by the western world, but in a majority-Muslim country such as Sierra Leone, relationships are strained. Professor Kamara noted that the inability to physically contact others when greeting and praying leads most people to stay at home. Families are also unable to touch their deceased loved ones for fear of contracting Ebola, and the lack of infrastructure often leads to the inability to remove bodies promptly.
The dilapidated healthcare system in Sierra Leone also has not helped the country’s response to and treatment of Ebola. Kamara mentioned an alarming statistic: there is only one doctor for every 50, 000 people in Sierra Leone, and four doctors have already died after contracting Ebola. Sierra Leone was obviously not prepared for an outbreak of this magnitude, as shown by the slow responses of both their government and the international community.
Professor Kamara’s comments bring a very important question to the table: what role should international forces play in responding to an epidemic outbreak? Both the British and American governments responded to Ebola, but not quickly enough. Action was not initiated until cases showed up in the United States. Some missionary groups and the World Health Organization have also stepped in, but the WHO admits that its efforts have not gotten the job done. Although all responses were initially slow, the U.S. and Great Britain have now begun efforts to build hospitals to expedite Ebola testing, the treatment of affected patients, and the removal of bodies of those who have perished. However, Kamara placed central blame for the outbreak on the West African governments who were not equipped to control an outbreak of this magnitude. Responsibility for controlling the spread of epidemics lies mainly on the governments of the affected countries and non-governmental organizations, such as the WHO, which must move away from its bureaucratic interests and instead put the interests of those affected first, because, as Kamara affirmed, “we have important lessons to learn.”
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