The Minister of Health and Sanitation Dr Abu Bakarr Fofanah has addressed the MOHS, CDC partnership forum at a special event held at the newly constructed Emergency Operational Centre (EOC) located within the precinct of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) Headquarters at Wilkinson Road.
Group Photo after Partnership Meeting (Right from front row: Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Brima Kargbo, U.S. Ambassador, John Hoover, Health Minister, Dr. Abu Bakarr Fofanah, Senior Director Ebola (eHealth Africa and Paul Allen Foundation Rep. Gabrielle Fitzgerald), Deputy Health Minister II, Madam Madina Rahman, Prof. Monty Jones, Special Adviser to the President, Ambassador at Large
The Minister elaborated on some of the lessons that the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) has taught us stressing on the need for a strong and resilient health system. He reminded the forum that in the absence of a resilient health system in any country, what may begin as a small health issue in a small corner of that country remote from the rest of the world can easily spread to become an epidemic of global proportions. He further went on to state that no matter the gains made by a health system if those gains are achieved on a weak platform they will not be sustainable in the face of the slightest stress on the health system. We were performing reasonably well prior to the EVD, according to last Demographic and Health Survey (DHS). But the reality on the ground now is that all these gains are on the brink of extinction because they were achieved on a weak platform.
Minister Fofanah went on to catalogue the issues and challenges faced by both the government and the international that conspired to limit their capacity to nip the infection from the bud. He cited institutional challenges like the lack of sufficient health infrastructure, logistic such as ambulances, burial vehicles, surveillance vehicles, personal protective equipment, drugs, and other medical supplies, and human resource for health.
He further cited other challenges faced by the government at the time of the outbreak bordering on the peculiar nature of the West African outbreak. The Minister informed the audience that the West African Outbreak is one that is characterised by several firsts. It is the first in West Africa and therefore new to all including the health workers themselves. It is the first outbreak of EVD to affect more than three countries almost simultaneously. It is the biggest in terms of the sheer number of people affected and infected. It is the first time in recent memory to force the world governing public health body, the World Health Organization (WHO), to declare a state of global public health emergency. It is the first in terms of the speed of spread from rural communities to the densely populated urban communities. It is the first disease outbreak to cause the United Nations via a special resolution to establish an emergency response mission (the United Nations Mission for Emergency Ebola Response – UNMEER).
Besides the above challenges, the Minister also digressed on the other challenges that relate to the social/cultural/traditional practices of our people that the government had to contend with. Initially there was a high level of Ignorance of the condition, fueling denial, aggravated by deeply rooted cultural and traditional practices, mistrusts, and conspiracy theories, sometimes resulting in violent confrontations between health care workers and the populace.
At the time of the outbreak, the country has not implemented the International Health Regulations (IHR). As a result there was no information specific enough to have acted as a warning sign of an impending doom. Therefore, there was no emergency preparedness plans in place. All these factors conspired to limit the capacity of not only the governments s but also that of the wider International Community to respond more robustly to the outbreak lamented the Minister.
On the blame game this is what Minister Fofanah had to say. Any criticism therefore of either the home government or the wider international community should be made with caution bearing the above factors and the complex nature of the epidemic we faced. While it is good to take stalk of our action/inaction, rather than spending most of the time moaning on the lapses of our Health Development Partners, let us celebrates over the silver linings that that their partnerships brought.
As we count our losses including the lives of our compatriots particularly the health workers who are the true heroes and heroines of this fight, let us not also lose sight of the opportunities that the outbreak presents to us. The EVD brought a renewed sense of oneness, a sense that the world is indeed a truly global village, a sense that we are each other’s keeper. This is reflected in the way the world responded to the sufferings of just a few countries.
With these few words, the Minister thanked all those who have contributed in diverse way to bring this epidemic to a near halt, and continue to work assiduously to ensure we achieve a resilient zero. Specifically, he recognised the special efforts of the US Centre for Disease Control, eHealth Africa, CDC foundation, Paul Allen foundation, USAID and the American people for their support including the gift of this very impressive structure we are converging. This structure will always remain as an indelible and lasting legacy of the cooperation and long-time friendship between the people of American and Sierra Leone. It will be a central component of our future epidemic fighting capability as it will be home to not only our emergency operations centre, but also to the envisaged National Institute of Public Health.
In his remarks the American Ambassador Mr John Hoover assured the Honourable Minister that the American support is here to stay and that they will continue to support the Sierra Leone government.