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Welcome to today’s press conference. Today there will be no EVD infrastructure update other than to say that PTS1 should be able to accept patients this time next week and that capacity is more than adequate in all areas.
In today’s statement I will be making clear whatthe changes in the state of emergency mean for this countryand then I will brief you on the work being done on the changes to the burials policy. I will brief you on the surge in Freetown as part of Op Safeguard and I will finish with a plea to the nation not to think that Ebola is over because it is not.
As promised last week, I will be explaining the Guinea EVD vaccine trials and its implications in the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone. , I have invited Dr Ali Wuriealong to help me answer the questions you might have , and explain what the Guinea Vaccine trials means for the fight against EVD in Sierra Leone.
Let me start with the state of emergency which I can confirm is still in place. I will repeat the restrictions lifted by His Excellency the President last week:
This is welcome relief to people who have been frustrated at not being able to go about their normal daily routines, but it does not mean Ebola is over and more importantly there is no mention of the lifting of the rules on Safe and Dignified Burials. Also, the President quite clearly stated that if meeting and entertainment venues are overcrowded or that if proper EVD precautions are not carried out, those businesses concerned, will be closed down. The same goes for Taxis and Okada who are only permitted to carry the legal capacity of the vehicle and I fully expect the Sierra Leone Police to enforce these rules.
Operation Northern Push will continue until the end of September or when SL gets to zero plus 42. The curfew in the chiefdoms that were showing EVD transmission have been lifted, but the security check points remain in place, as does the social mobilisation and surveillance effort that has brought us the success in those districts. It is imperative that we do not have a repeat of the situation earlier this year when complacency crept in and a lack of vigilance lead to new cases after 32 days at zero.
I am encouraged greatly by the progress of Kambia and Port Loko in getting to zeroand Operation Northern Push will continue to sustain that progress. I saw myself the joy of the people this weekend when I visited, but this joy brought on by the easing of the restrictions must be accompanied by extra vigilance in our communities as we go about the business of getting the country to resilient zero.
I am also greatly encouraged with the way the quarantines in Tonkolili are being handled and the way the transmissions there have been controlled. To have contained this transmission chainso effectivelyshows how well the response reacted to this EVD event.
Tonkolili DERC have reported that a number of illegal burials have been carried out in the district and that the people involved thought that the restrictions on Safe and Dignified Burials had been lifted. Asyou are about to hear IT HAS NOT.
Also, I have been informed of secret activities commencing in some districts across the country. Let me clearly state AGAIN that the ban on secret society activities is maintained. I strongly encourage you to note of these words as anybody caught engaging in such activities, will face the full force of the law.
Before I talk about the changes to the Safe and Dignified Burials fpr Western Area policy, let me confirm to everyone in Sierra Leone that the concept of how these burials are carried out will continue until we reach resilient zero and will then be reviewed.My Team at the NERC are almostfinished with the changes and a special announcement will be made in the next few days. There are still one or two key issues that need to be addressed before that can happen but I can give you a heads up on what we know so far.Families in Western Area will be offered the chance to negotiate Safe and Dignified Burials at the cemetery of their choice withinthe district.A special announcement will be made as soon as the details are finalized. We want to do this right. Paying our resects to loved ones at death, even during the extra precautions due to Ebola, is not something any family nor the NERC takes lightly.
In the same way I am still looking to the Paramount Chiefs and village heads to keep motivating their people to call 117 in case of sickness and death, and to avoid unsafe practices, I am looking at to them to ensure the burials policy is adhered to. The washing of corpses and touching and kissing of the dead has been the major cause of transmission throughout this outbreak and it must not be allowed to take place.
Before I begin talking about the Vaccine trials in neighboring Guinea, I would like to introduce Dr Ali Wurie from the MOHS who is here to ensure all technical details are covered correctly and to answer your questions at the end. The vaccine trial in Guinea was announced as a great success, but we must understand that at the moment it is just a trial despite the 100 percent success. This trial will be continued here in Sierra Leone and the same Trial Vaccine that was used in Guinea will be extended to Sierra Leone. The protocol has been agreed by State House and the MOHS and work is underway to put the conditions in place for the trial to begin.
What I can tell you is that the vaccine will not be available to trial on the Tonkalili transmission and probably not the Western Area transmission, but it will be available to trial fornew cases in the future, should we have them.It is important to note that Sierra Leone has tested methods of fighting Ebola. They work. And we will continue to use them. This vaccine is experimental and is a welcome addition to our arsenal in fighting Ebola. The vaccine trial is just that. A trial.
Let me bring you up to date with the situation in Western Area. The mother has been tested for IGG and shown to have high levels of this antibody. This means that at some point recently, she had been infected with EVD and showed only mild symptoms and recovered. Yesterday her 8 month old baby who had tested positive and fell very ill, died. Even though we have lived with death throughout this outbreak, every new loss of life, especially someone so young, is tragic. The pain of the family was made worse by some confusion over the retesting of the baby.This was caused by unofficial reports made by mobile phones to the family from within the ETU.
I recognize the stress on families and the desperation to get news on their sick family members, but I would like to make it clear that families must rely only on official information from the MOHS on the status of their loved ones. The system is designed to give timely and accurate information to worried families and mobile phone calls from ETUs can cause confusion and unnecessary distress, as this experience has shown.
As of this morning there are 6 missing contacts 3 of which are high risk. When I say missing, it doesn’t mean they have run away. It simply means that they have not been located, partly and probably because they are not aware they have been identified as contacts. We are very experienced in tracing these people and the specialists are working hard to inform them of their status as contacts and get them into quarantine.
Finally I would like to say a few words in support the living victims of this EVD outbreak. Last week in Freetown there was an important meeting on Ebola Survivors needs, including social, medical and psychological. Ebola survivors have long-term medical and non-medical problems that need our care and support and this means that we have a unique responsibility.
Let me be clear. Surviving Ebola is an extraordinary victory over a virus that has been holding this entire country hostage. Having gone through this hell, so many of these survivors have voluntarily returned to help in the fight to against Ebola and I personally consider these citizens to be heroes.
The stigma they face and the nasty, unfounded suspicions undermining their chances to return normal life, shame us all. Do not be part of it.
I am looking at ways that we at the NERC with our partners, can work closer with EVD survivors and ways to support their needs. They did not choose to be in the situation they are in and we need to recognize the problems they have and how best to make use of their status.
Later this week and over the weekend I will be visiting…..