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Welcome to today’s press conference.
Today, I will give you update on the overall EVD situation in the country,speak on the progress in implementing Project Shield for Ebola survivors, and remind you of what we all need to continue to do to sustain a resilient zero and achieve our countdown to zero plus 42.
I am proud to state that the overall EVD situation in the country remains encouraging, with no EVD positive case recorded in the country for the fourth consecutive week. Like last week, no patients were admitted for EVD and there are no quarantined homes.
I am also proud to bring to your attention important milestones we have achieved in the fight against Ebola this week:
These achievementstell us we are continuing to make progress in the fight against Ebola, and show us our investments in these countries are working.
As the CEO of NERC, let me sincerely thank all of the airlines and businesses that have resumed operations back into our country and appeal to those that have not returned to start now, as our country’s economic growth and recovery depend largely on the private sector.
To those investors that are still skeptical about the Ebola situation in the country, I proudly say that today is day 18 of the countdown to 42. When many of you left, we were recording morethan 200 cases a week, but we have now gone for over three consecutive weeks without recording a case. The risk of widespread infection is no more. We are winning this war; so bring back your investments and help rebuild our economy.
Last week, I informed you of the launch of Project Shield, a comprehensive programme we have developed for Ebola survivors. This programme is to be implemented by the Ministries of Health and Sanitation and Social Welfare in collaboration with the Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors (SLAES).
The implementation of Project Shield has begun with the training of more than 100 survivor advocates who will be distributed across the country to increase our engagement with Ebola survivors.
The pilot of this project in wards 371, 372, 373 and 374 in the Western Area started last week with registration and verification of survivors, and this pilot project has been very successful thus far. Rollout to the rest of the Western Area, Port Loko and Bombali will soon begin and will be extended to the rest of the country thereafter. The NERC will continue to work with the Ministries of Health and Social Welfare to ensure that Project Shield in fully implemented, so that survivors all across the country will benefit from this comprehensive package.
Like I have stated in my previous press conferences, let me say again that I hold Ebola survivors in high esteem. These are brave Sierra Leoneans who have given our country hope by surviving this deadly virus by being courageous, strong, and resilient. Ebola is deadly and surviving it is heroic. Survivors must be treated as heroes and not villains as their actions at the treatment centers, their involvement in social mobilization, contact tracing, surveillance and their actions to help move suspected patients from communities to holding or treatment centres to prevent the risk of more community infections are all heroic.
I understand our concerns and all the confusion that have been created by the science involving traces of the virus persisting in the semen of some male survivors for certain months. Let me reiterate again that while it is true that particles of the virus persist in the semen of some male survivors for certain number of months after they have recovered from this terrible disease, science is still not clear as to whether these traces are infectious.
Until we learn more about this disease, I ask that we not accuse or stigmatize survivors unjustly.
One of the activities that will be implemented under Project Shield is semen testing for male survivors.My team is currently working with the Laboratory Technical Working Group to fast track implementationof this Project, so that survivors will have peace of mind, but until that is done, we continue to appeal that all male survivors continue to practice safe sex by using condoms for at least six months after they recover from the disease or abstain from having unprotected sex for the same period.
Today, it is important that I speak on this moment in history and remind us of how far we have come together. This time last year, we were recording more than 300 cases a week. We were still struggling to establish treatment centres and bring in more personnel to tackle this deadly disease. More people were infected with the disease in our communities, but stayed in those communities because there were no beds for them.
From the very beginning, Sierra Leoneans joined in the fight. We also rallied together with our friends from the international community and made beds available to care for the sick. We mobilized and removed the infected people from our communities into those beds and provided them the care they needed. Processes and structures were established. All of these actions from many groups have caused us to be where we are today.
We have all fought long and hard hours together to get to this moment. I know too that we all long for the day when we can be declared Ebola free. It is within our reach, and it can be achieved, but we must all stay in this together to achieve it. I ask that we all continue to call 117 to report sickness and deaths in our communities. I ask that those of you,who are washing or touching dead bodies in your households and communities, stop and call 117. Your actions are a setback to defeating this virus, your actions put you, your families, and others at risk of been infected with the virus, and you could prolongour country from been declared Ebola free.
Every week I express how proud I am of Sierra Leoneans that are doing the right things to end this outbreak. Sierra Leoneans have again shown strong resilience to overcome another major disaster. I have no doubt in my mind that we will see the end together and will come out a stronger nation.
Every week I also commend those Ebola response workers on the frontline that are putting their own lives at risk to save you, your family, and your community. These people are doing these risky jobs because they love their country and their people. If you cannot commend them for their sacrifices, do not attack them or prevent them from doing their work.
I said this last week and I will say it again. We are where we are because these fine Sierra Leoneans have sacrificed their lives every day doing risky jobs on the frontline. I will let no one mess with my Ebola response workers and get away with it.
Together we will defeat Ebola.
I look forward to answering you questions.