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President Koroma gives direction on the future of NERC
In a meeting involving the National Ebola Response Centre (NERC);the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS); the Office of National Security (ONS); the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs (MSWGCA); and key partners including the Inter-Agency Collaboration on Ebola, the World Health Organization (WHO); Centre for Disease Control and Prevention; and the UK government,His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma expressed a desire to see the continuation of the NERC and associated District Ebola Response Centres (DERCs) until 31 December 2015 and the full handover of responsibilities for all public health emergencies to MoHSand management of disasters to ONS on 1 January 2016.
WHO will declare the current outbreak over in Sierra Leone after it records zero cases for 42 consecutive days after the last Ebola patient is discharged after testing negative for the virus or the last patient dies and is given a safe and dignified burial. Recent epidemiological trends have been encouraging. While Sierra Leone remains vigilant and in active response mode, the country is hopeful of a declaration of an end to the current outbreak soon.
However, while this will be a welcome development for all Sierra Leoneans, uncertainty remains as to when the Mano River Union subregion as a whole will achieve zero Ebola While trends are encouraging, also playing on Sierra Leonean government officials’ minds was Liberia’s recent experience. The country saw a new cluster of Ebola cases nearly two months after WHO had declared an end to the Liberia Ebola outbreak.
Furthermore, WHO’s Phase Three strategy to address the current Ebola outbreak in Mano River Union countries—which has been a strong influence on government of Sierra Leone thinking and policy—has emphasizedaddressing residual risks of the re-emergence of Ebola. The President noted that as of now, studies have been inconclusive as to what precisely is the level and nature of the risks posed, for instance, by the presence of the Ebola virus in some survivors.
Therefore, as a precautionary measure, the government of Sierra Leone, directed by His Excellency, has decided to retain the current Ebola structures until the end of 2015. By law, the ONS retains overall responsibility for coordination of all aspects of disaster management—including preparedness, risk reduction, response, and recovery. MoHSis establishing new and reinforcing existing public health emergency structures, systems, and processes. MSWGCA has responsibility for child protection, gender and psychosocial needs.
While current Ebola response structures will be retained, as the Ebola threat recedes, the government of Sierra Leone will “rightsize” NERC and DERC personnel with two key objectives in mind. First, as the Ebola threat has receded but not disappeared entirely, NERC/DERCs will need to retain the capability to respond to any new outbreak with speed, precision, and with clear command, control, and coordination structures and capacity. Second, capabilities and assets acquired by NERC/DERCs in the fight against Ebola must be transitioned responsibly to successor institutions.All asset transfers will take place transparently with the active consent of donating parties. Capabilities in particular will be transferred through redeployment of key personnel, job shadowing, training, briefings, lesson learning exercises, workshops, etc.
There will be a follow-up meeting in two weeks’ time to apprise His Excellency the President of more specific details and plans for implementation of this transition process. The President continues to urge the public to maintain vigilance in the face of the ongoing Ebola threat the country faces.