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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 President’s address to the nation last weekend on survivors, and give progress on the implementation of Project Shield for Ebola survivors.
I am proud to state that the EVD situation in the country remains encouraging, and today is day 25 of our national countdown to 42 days, when the World Health Organization (WHO) shall declare a break in transmission of Ebola in our beloved country.
This is a remarkable success in our fight against Ebola considering where we were a year ago, when this country recorded 599 new cases in the week commencing 10 – 16 November 2014.
It is great to see how working together has brought us closer to victory against this wicked virus, and we must all be proud of this achievement.It has been a difficult battle for us, but in unity, we found endurance and strength to conquer Ebola.
The fight against Ebola has taught us a clear lesson that our country is stronger when we unite against a common enemy and that no battle is unwinnable when we resolve as a nation to be victorious. As the CEO of the NERC, I am very thankful to every Sierra Leonean for your support and to our international friends for their commitment and sacrifices fighting alongside us throughout this outbreak.
Let me hasten to remind you all however, that though victory is in sight, we are not completely out of the woods yet. This meansthat we must continue washing our hands with soap and water, calling 117 to report sickness and deaths in our communities, and we must not touch or wash dead bodies.
I remind us every week to keep doing these right things because they havebrought us closer to this victory. Great progress has been made across the country, but we must keep practicing safe behaviors and doing what we already know works to stop Ebola.
Let me also inform you that I am very much concerned about activities in Guinea. Guinea has recorded more than four cases the last two weeks, two in Forecariah; just across the border from Kambia. The election activities have also had its own effect on the fight against EVD in that country, with frequent public rallies and protests in congested areas of the capital city, Conakry. These are worrying trends and possible threats to victory in the fight against EVD in the sub-region.
I have instructed the Ebola Response Centres in the Districts sharing the border with Guinea to remain alert and increase screening measures in the towns and villages bordering Guinea. If you are sick, do not travel. This will keep your family and friends from being sick. If a friend or family member thinks they might have Ebola, encourage them to call 117. Early treatment saves lives and keeps the community and Mama Salone healthy too. We will keep our eyes on Guinea, and will continue to adjust our response in those districts as events unfold.
On Saturday, 17th October, which marked day 21 of our national countdown to 42 days; His Excellency the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma addressed the nation on survivors. The President commended us for the progress we have made so far as a nation and asked that we be proud for what we have achieved together.
More importantly, the President reminded us of how proud we all need to be of our Ebola survivors. I join with His Excellency in frowning at those who stigmatize or wrongfully accused survivors while also paying very little attention to scientific evidence.
I am particularly happy that the President again explained the science of particles of the virus persisting in the semen of some male survivors for a certain number of months. Many of you, without properly understanding the science, have accused survivors unjustly and have even suggested isolation of male survivors for few months.
Let me reiterate the main point made by the President in his address: stigmatization in any form against Ebola survivors is simply unacceptable. We know that new studies show that a small number of male survivors have pieces of Ebola in their semen for up to six months or longer. It is not known if these small pieces can spread Ebola to another person.
I do believe that counselling and continuous engagement with our survivors is a more realistic approach than isolation. We must make it our responsibility to help survivors reintegrate into their communities. It should also be our duty to engage survivors on their personal responsibility to protect their partners.
We have been through a lot as a nation and so have our survivors. We must be supportive of one another to get through this difficult moment. Ebola survivors are Sierra Leoneans; they are our brothers and sisters, mothers, fathers, uncles and children. It is un-Sierra Leonean to abandon and isolate your family.
The implementation of Project Shield is well under way.An additional 88 survivor advocates were trained on 16th and 17th October, to enable the rollout of Project Shield into the 65 wards in the Western Area. Couple counselling, peer group sensitisation and condom promotion began in the 4 wards in Western Area, (wards 371, 372, 373 and 374). In Port Loko, 33 survivor advocates were trained to support the registration and mapping exercise in that district.
For ease of access to services, semen collection sites willbe co-located with survivor clinics offering preliminary health care and psychosocial support. In Port Loko, the outpatient department of the Port Loko Government Hospital will serve as the survivor clinic and the nearby Maforki Community Health Centre (CHC) will be the semen collection site.
The semen collection sites for Bombali and Western Area are under discussion and will be decided on the 22nd October.
Together, we will defeat Ebola!
I look forward to answering you questions.