This article was previously published on Ebola Deeply.
By Aruna Turay
Ebola Deeply spoke with Sierra Leone government spokesman Abdulai Bayraytay about a recent spike in cases, the government's pledge to reach zero cases by mid-May and the audit that revealed some Ebola funds were not properly accounted for.
Ebola Deeply: Earlier this month, the leaders of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea made a new pledge to reach zero cases by mid-May. How feasible is this goal, given that Sierra Leone is recording on average 15 new cases a day at the moment?
Bayraytay: This can be achieved through effective contact tracing, coordinated surveillance systems, and well-structured social mobilization. This time, the surveillance will be done along the borders linking the three countries. It can be recalled that the first reported Ebola case in Sierra Leone was through cross-border traveling. A woman moved from Sierra Leone to Guinea, contracted the virus and brought it home with her. The same thing happened in Liberia and Guinea. So there is more need for a high-level and coordinated cross-border surveillance system than ever before.
Remember, it is always said that the road to zero infections is a very bumpy one, but we are confident that we are now very close to the end of Ebola in Sierra Leone. We're working with the United Nations Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), and we have capacity for effective contact tracing, surveillance, and preparedness against any new infections. This is why we were confident to join Guinea and Liberia in agreeing to sign up to a 60-day deadline to end the epidemic in the three countries.
Ebola Deeply: What more is needed? Do you now have the resources you need?
Bayraytay: When Ebola came to our country, we were having challenges, with limited ambulances, a poor healthcare system, and limited laboratories, among other issues. Now, to sustain the joint national and international efforts against the epidemic, we need continued foreign support from the World Health Organization (WHO)—in terms of health policy guidance to the government—and the international community—in terms of logistics, expertise and medical dispatch—to ensure that Sierra Leone reaches zero infection on Ebola and is prepared for post-Ebola recovery.
Ebola Deeply: An audit recently revealed that more than 30 percent of internal funds earmarked for the Ebola response have not been properly accounted for. Is it fair to ask for more funding while the investigation continues?
Bayraytay: Our partners will continue to give us money to fight Ebola and for post-Ebola recovery. This is because the audit report has not said the monies were misappropriated, but that those who spent the monies have not submitted supportive documents such as invoices and receipts to show how these monies were spent.
Our policy as a country is toward zero tolerance on corruption, and we have displayed this by strengthening the Anti-Corruptions Commission to thoroughly investigate the funds and come out with appropriate action against anyone found guilty of misappropriation.
Secondly, it was our government that strengthened the auditor general to do what has been done and come out with such a report. This is because our government believes in transparency and accountability and that was the reason why, as a country, we were given the offer to transform our international debts to be used as post-Ebola recovery expenses.
Ebola Deeply: Apart from the pledge to reach zero cases by mid-May, how closely is Sierra Leone collaborating with the governments of Liberia and Guinea?
Bayraytay: The leaders of all three countries signed a communiqué, which addresses specific issues, including the renewal of commitments by the three leaders to fight the epidemic with all the vigor and resources at their disposal. It also agreed that the three leaders will continue to collaborate effectively and exchange meaningful ideas to combat the virus. There was also a commitment to build a regional Center for Disease Control, as Sierra Leone is already establishing one through the support of the Chinese government.
Ebola Deeply: Are there any plans for the government to compensate the families of front-line health workers who died fighting Ebola?
Bayraytay: As a country, Sierra Leone has already agreed to make a payment of $5,000 to the families of all the front-line health workers who died during the course of fighting the virus. We have already commenced the payment of this money and I’m sure Guinea and Liberia also have their ways of compensating their victims.
Aruna Turay is a contributor to Ebola Deeply.