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Welcome to today’s press conference. Today, I will update you on His Excellency’s visit to Tonkolili, Kambia and Port Loko Districts, the general EVD situation in the country and the amended policy on Safe and Dignified Burial.
Let me begin with the President’s visit to Tonkolili, Kambia and Port Loko Districts. His Excellency the President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma on Friday, joined the people of Tonkolili District to discharge 595 people from quarantine in Massessebe village. His Excellency thanked the people of Massessebe for their positive spirit, demonstrated by their adherence to the quarantine measures and for staying the cause. He also thanked the Tonkolili DERC for their leadership and swift response to stop what could have been a major outbreak of Ebola in that part of the country. HE encouraged them to avoid complacency and remain vigilant till Ebola is eradicated from the entire country.
The President was also in Kambia and Port Loko to monitor the continued implementation of Operation Northern Push (ONP). His Excellency expressed how pleased he was with the implementation of the ONP and the progress the two districts have made in the fight against the EVD. He encouraged them to maintain the local structures being used in the community owned response and asked that they continue to monitor progress till we get to the end of the outbreak.
The overall EVD situation in the country remains encouraging. Last week, Epi Week 33; Sierra Leone recorded zero cases of Ebola, the first time since the outbreak began in May 2014. The country has now gone for 12 consecutive days without recording a positive case of Ebola. Currently there are only two patients admitted for EVD in treatment centres across the country. One of the patients has already tested negative twice after treatment and is due to be discharged today, whilst the other is recovering and will be discharged as soon as possible. These are good signs that the end is near, but also a reminder that the end is not here yet. I must remind all of us that with 79 contacts still been monitored in quarantine homes, there is every possibility that we might still record one or two cases here and there and so must manage our expectations.
Like I stated last week, Operation Northern Push will continue until the end of September or when SL gets to zero plus 42. I am very much impressed with the structures Kambia and Port Loko have already established to keep communities engaged to keep Ebola out of their districts. Community taskforces have been established constituting village headmen, village traditional healers, village youth leaders, village women’s leader, village religious leader and village secret society leader. The taskforces are charged with the responsibility of monitoring their communities and villages for adherence to all Ebola policies and protocols. We all know that the category of people listed as members of the village taskforces are key opinion leaders in our communities. Having them as part of a team responsible for their people will continue to yield positive results. As the Silent Districts develop their plans for maintaining a resilient zero, I encourage them to continue to strengthen community ownership of this fight so that we can all collectively eradicate Ebola from our country.
Operation Safeguard Western Area kicked off last week with operations in all 69 wards in the Western Area. Western Area wards have been classified as high risk and low risk wards. In the seven high risk wards, four teams per ward, (comprising ward taskforce members, contact tracers, community monitors, ward survivors)embarked on active case finding. In the remaining 62 low risk wards,two teams per ward (comprising ward taskforce members and social mobilisers) embarked on social mobilization and community engagement. The operation has been progressing well since it started last week.
During my press briefing last week, I had with me Dr. Alie Wurie who assisted with discussion around vaccines. We provided you with technical details and the plans we have for replicating the Guinea protocol here in Sierra Leone. As an update, much progress has been made in that direction. The Ministry of Health and Sanitation has put a team together to work with our Guinean counterparts on how to start implementing their protocol here in Sierra Leone. This team, led by Dr. James Russell was on a study tour in Guinea last week and has already started working on the modalities to begin thatvaccine trial to Sierra Leone. I will continue to update you on this as we progress.
I am repeatedly being informed by DERCs in various districts about certain individuals engaging in secret society activities in the districts. I touched on this issue last week, but let me reiterate again in clear terms that the ban on secret society activities have not been lifted and anyone caught engaged in these acts will face the full force of the law.
I have also been informed that public transportation owners and drivers, especially Taxis and “Poda Podas” are misusing the lifting of restrictions by overloading their vehicles. I have asked the Sierra Leone Police and traffic authorities to take look out for this and bring to book those defaulters so the law can take its course. At this stage of the fight, we must all act responsibly to bring this menace to an end. This is not a fight for only NERC and its partners. It is one that we can only win with all of us playing our individual parts.
I touched a bit on burials last week and did promise that my team at the NERC was finalizing the new policy and that a special announcement would be made to the public about theamended policy. Before I make this announcement, let me introduce Mr. Abu Jalloh of the Sierra Leone Red Cross and Mr. Victor Kamara of Concern Worldwide. These two gentlemen are members of the burial pillar which worked on this amended policy and also employees of two of the organizations in the consortium responsible for implementing this new policy. They have assured me that they will be capable of implementing this new policy and are here to answer any technical questions that you may have.
As promised last week and as stated in His Excellency’s address a week or so ago, we have reviewed the current burial policy. Please note that all burials will still be conducted by the burial teams in a safe and dignified manner within 24 hours. However we have agreed with our partners, owners of funeral homes and other stakeholders to make the following modifications to the current policy:
The public is encouraged to adhere strictly to all the provisions under this amended policy as we journey to the end of the outbreak. Funeral homes are requested to clear corpses currently stored in their facilities against the 20th August 2015, which is when this amended policy goes into effect. The main issue of contention with the last policy, especially in the Western Area was in relation to the use of cemeteries of choice. I can report that the burials policy review team took this into consideration and we will now give families the opportunity to negotiate cemeteries of their choice for burial of their loved ones. We will continue to review this policy and all others as we make progress in the fight against the EVD.
As I close, let me state that today, 19th of August is World Humanitarian day. The slogan for this year is inspiring humanity. The World Humanitarian Day is designated by the General Assembly of the United to honour those who promote humanitarian causes and to pay tribute to those who have lost their lives in humanitarian service. I therefore take this opportunity on behalf of the NERC to honour our Ebola Frontline Workers who continue to face danger and adversity daily to save the rest of us. May God continue to have mercy on their souls.
We are making progress in this fight because we have been doing the right things
We are making progress in this fight because we are making tough decisions as a country.
We are making progress in this fight because we are calling 117 to report the sick in our households and our communities
We are making progress in this fight because we are keeping our people safe through the Safe and Dignified Burials
We are making progress in this fight because we are engaging our communities on doing the right things. We must not look back now and reverse the gains we have made together. The end is near so let us keep pushing on.
Together, we can beat Ebola
Thank you very much