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ADDRESS ON SURVIVORS

My fellow Sierra Leoneans,

Today is Day 21 of our national countdown to 42 days when the World shall Declare our country Ebola-Free.

This marks a significant milestone in our nation’s fight against the Ebola Virus Disease. We have made tremendous progress; we have no doubt that victory is within our reach.

This shall be a victory for every Sierra Leonean and our international partners. We stood side by side through a challenging period in our nation’s history. Through collaboration between our Ebola response workers, our survivors, our traditional leaders, our religious leaders and our wider communities, we faced a common enemy and we are prevailing. All Sierra Leoneans should be extremely proud of what we have achieved together.

A little over a month ago, when new cases emerged in Kambia and Bombali, we saw misinformation, rumours, and people pointing the finger of blame at survivors.

I am deeply concerned by this. It is important that we all put aside fear and ignorance, and understand the facts about Ebola.

The single most important fact about our over 4,000 survivors is that each and every one of them is a hero. They have shown heroism in overcoming the disease, and many of them have shown heroism in contributing to the Ebola response. A few weeks ago in Bombali, it was survivors who protected others from the risks of close contact with an EVD patient.

There are other important facts. We know that it is safe to work with our survivors and to go to school with them. We know that it is safe to buy fruit from survivors in the market, and to sit next to them. We know that it is safe to worship alongside our survivors in the churches and in the mosques. We know it is safe to be close to our survivors.

But there are some facts that are less well understood, and that have been causing confusion and fear. Because there has never been an Ebola epidemic like this before, there is still much that even our best experts are not yet sure of in relation to this disease.

We do know that over time all traces of the virus leave the bodies of survivors; we do know that the vast majority of our survivors already have no trace of the virus; but we do not yet know how long it takes for every trace of the virus to disappear from our population. The latest scientific evidence tells us that traces of the virus can persist in a small minority of male survivors. Survivors and all of us must be aware of this to better protect everyone involved in intimate relationships.

Last week’s launch of Project Shield by the National Ebola Response Centre is a positive step towards honoring this commitment to survivors. Project Shield will identify all EVD survivors, give them ID cards, and train survivor advocates to provide individual and peer group support to survivors. The programme will also provide basic medical care and establish testing facilities in three districts. Project Shield is a national programme but it will be introduced in a phased manner, starting with those districts that have the highest number of survivors who were most recently discharged. Those districts are Western Area, Port Loko and Bombali.

We fight Ebola together and we win together. Surviving Ebola is a victory for families, for communities and for all of Sierra Leone. There is no place for stigmatisation or isolation of our survivors. They are our family members, neighbours and friends, and they have played and continue to play a vital role in our Ebola response.

The end is in sight but we are not yet at the end. Until Sierra Leone and our sister country, Guinea get to 42 days, we must remain vigilant and not lower our guard. We will sustain the rapid response capacity to deal with any flare-ups of the disease. We will continue to swab all dead bodies to enable us to be certain that we have not missed a single case. We must continue to call 117 to report the sick and the dead in our households and communities. I cannot stress enough that we must not touch or wash dead bodies. As I have said before, it is only by doing these right things that we can be sure of a resilient zero.

I thank all Sierra Leoneans for the commitment you have shown, and for the sacrifices you have made to get our country to this point in the fight against Ebola. If all of us continue to work together, and to be vigilant, and determined, I remain confident in our victory.

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