A day after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared West Africa Ebola-free, Sierra Leone recorded a new Ebola death. WHO had said such flare-ups were to be expected.
Researchers have been tracing the movements of Ebola's latest victim. The 22-year-old woman had actually died of Ebola. The woman, who was a student in Port Loko, travelled to Bamoi Luma, an area close the border with Guinea in late December. On her way back home to Tonkili District, she was reported to have had diarrhea and was vomiting. On January 8, 2016, she went to seek medical care at a local hospital. A health worker did take a blood sample, but it is unclear whether she was tested for Ebola. The disease went undetected. Four days later, she died.
The woman is said to have lived with about 22 other people and so far 27 people have been identified for monitoring. Sierra Leonean authorities, however, said that they are able to deal with this new case. They have dispatched a team to the affected area to track down any contacts the woman might have had. Certain areas will be quarantined, Francis Langoba Kellie, spokesman for the Office of National Security, told a local radio program.
'Our brothers and sisters died of Ebola'
Sierra Leoneans were disappointed by the news of the latest Ebola case. "Having gone through the recent horror of this Ebola menace, we hope things will be put in place for it not to happen again," a Osman Kamara, a Freetown resident told DW. "Our brothers and sisters died of Ebola. We pray to God that it will be the end of it," Willam Jessie Siafa, another resident said.
The two-year-long health crisis that hit the region had brought everything to a standstill. The travel restrictions and lockdowns had crippled the economy, schools in Sierra Leone were closed for nine months and the health system was heavily overburdened. "After WHO declared West Africa free from Ebola, our hearts are so saddened because it has come back, as if it is going to jeopardize the business in the country," businessman Moses Abata told DW. Peter Lahai, a student in Freetown also expressed fears that his education might once again suffer under a new outbreak.
Some Sierra Leoneans were more skeptical and voiced doubts over the emergence of the new case. They just want to take our minds off other things, one resident told DW's reporter Murtala Kamara. But, Kamara said, the awareness for Ebola however does exist. "When people feel sick, they rush to the hospital and seek medical care." The fear that had prevailed amongst Sierra Leoneans during the Ebola crisis is no longer present, he added.
WHO: 'the job is still not done'
The news that the woman's body had tested positive came just hours after the WHO had declared all three countries, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, Ebola-free. Rick Brennan, WHO director of emergency risk assessment and humanitarian response had predicted new flare-ups of the virus. "While this is an important milestone, the job is still not done," Brennan told reporters in Geneva on Thursday (14.01.2016).
The virus still exists in the bodies of some of the survivors. It can, for instance, survive for up to 12 months in male semen. Although the risk is very low, it is still there, Brennan explained.
Nevertheless, WHO's Ebola experts on Thursday said they were confident that the local health authorities were ready to handle any new cases. According to Brennan, all of the WHO's 70 field offices are still in place across the three countries to support the national health systems.
The fact that this latest case went unnoticed until after the woman's death although she sought medical advice, has left Sierra Leoneans skeptical. "We learnt that people were holding a small demonstration in front of that hospital," Kamara said. "They blame the medical workers in that hospital for failing to recognize that she had the disease."