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Welcome to today’s press conference. Today, I will speak about events across the country for the past two weeks, the general EVD situation in the country; Operation Western Area Safeguard; progress in the implementation of the amended policy on Safe and Dignified Burial and recent events in Kambia District.
Many of you had the opportunity to visit the IMC Treatment Centre in Mateneh, Bombali District with His Excellency the President, the NERC and our partners to discharge the last EVD patient. It was an exciting and memorable moment for us as a country and we all felt good about starting the countdown to 42. For those of you who were at that ceremony, speaker after speaker; including the President emphasized the need for us to remain vigilant and reminded us that the fight against Ebola was not yet over. I will join His Excellency and all others to reiterate the point that Ebola is not over yet and that we all need to remain committed and vigilant until we are declared Ebola free by the World Health Organization (WHO).
No matter what our situation is currently, we have made tremendous progress in the fight against Ebola. President Dr Ernest Bai Koroma discharged our last patient from the treatment centre on Monday and on Saturday the same week, the last set of people we had in quarantine were discharged in the Western Area. We were well on our way to the end, but the reality is; we were not at the end and we are still not at the end.
Recent events in Tonkolili and Kambiashould remind us all of the gruesome reality of how complex a disease Ebola is and how the battle against it could be complex and difficult. In all my briefings and engagements with the public, I have stressed the need for us to remain vigilant and avoid complacency. I have stressed the need for us to continue doing the right things that have got us the progress we are seeing today. I have always pleaded with people to call 117 to report sickness and deaths in their communities, but it seems these pleas and warnings are not been adhered to by some and hence we keep going backwards every time we take some steps forward.
In my last press conference, I did announce the amended Safe and Dignified Burial SOP, highlighting key areas that have been amended and when the new policy will go into effect. Let me update you that the implementation of this new policy have gone into effect, though not without few challenges. I have been informed by my team of challenges in paying Risk Allowances to some swabbers who have not opened bank accounts as mandated by NERC pay team.This may have led to the delay in the payments of their risk allowances. This unfortunate event led to backlogs of corpses in the Connaught Mortuary and in communities in the Western Area. I am however, encouraged that my team resolved the situation and we are back to conducting the Safe and Dignified Burial as stipulated in the SOP. Let me also remind funeral homes of their commitments to close their funeral homes for storage of corpses and clear all backlog corpses by the 31st of August, 2015. I do not expect excuses at this point, two weeks after the policy have gone into effect. Every partner, every player and every stakeholder must be committed and serious about this fight or we will continue registering cases because of our failures to live up to our commitments. I will be out in the field in a few days to see firsthand how the teams are implementing this new amendment. I am aware of the emotions surrounding burial issues in our country and I am aware of the fact that many want us to lift restrictions on burial, but recent events in Tonkolili and now Kambia have proven us right about continuing with the safe and dignified burials.
The Operation Western Area Safeguard, which engaged our teams in active case search in seven high risk wards and social mobilization in sixty-two low risk wards ended last week; with His Excellency the President closing the case search exercise with our team at the Magazine Wharf Community. I must commend the team at the Western Area Ebola Response Centre and all our partners who took part in this exercise for a job well done. Our engagements with the communities and empowering the communities to take ownership of the process helped us identify and bring out many sick people we may not have reached. Such efforts should be extended to other districts, especially those that are now been referred to as silent districts.
Before I travelled, I instructed the Director of Plans and her team to work with the districts to come up with a comprehensive plan as to how they intend to keep communities engaged as we countdown to zero plus 42. I have been informed that the plans are well underway and all Districts Coordinators will be engaged in a two day planning session starting tomorrow. You will be informed of the outcome in few days.
You all may have heard of the unfortunate incident in Sella Kafta, Tonko Limba Chiefdom in the Kambia District, where a Swab positive result was reported after 22 days without recording a case in the entire nation. Initial investigation reveal that this woman fell ill on the 20th of August, after visiting a nearby village and died on the 28th of August; after which her swab was taken by the burial team before the safe and dignified burial.Later,the swab proved positive. This unfortunate incident has set us back for few days as we were well into our countdown to 42. The Kambia DERC, the NERC Rapid Response Team and our partners moved in quickly and as our initial response, identified and isolated 50 contacts; 20 of whom are high risk. We have moved additional team in, including our vaccine team to create possible ring around this case. Our focus is to minimize the positive cases that are likely to emerge from this event.
I know this event will discourage and frustrate us all, but I ask that we do not lose hope and confidence in the response process. I was in Kambia yesterday and I must commend the team on the ground for a job well done so far. Yes, more cases may be recorded from this event, but the situation seems to be under control from what I saw on my visit to the village.
The general EVD situation in the country is still encouraging, despite this hiccup. It is just the nature of this fight, but we can overcome these bumps if we commit ourselves in our communities and subject ourselves and our people to doing the right things. Some people may have known that the lady was sick, but no one called 117 until she passed. There is a health centre in the village, but no one took her to the health centre and the nurse was only informed when her situation got worse. These are all the wrong things and that woman could have been alive today and may have recovered if someone had called 117 when she started feeling ill.
Ebola is still with us!!!!!!!
Ebola is still in our communities!!!!!
Call 117 to report sickness and deaths in our communities!!!!!!
Before I close, let me inform you of the following developments at the NERC:
Thank you all very much and I look forward to receiving your questions