Of Corona Virus and Sierra Leone’s Poorly-resourced Healthcare System

The corona virus pandemic as an existential threat has dominated global agenda. The whole world was taken aback, virtually unprepared for a global emergency of this sort when this epidemic first struck Wuhan City in China like a wounded lion--so fierce, so unforgiving, so deadly. It killeda large number of the population in that part of the world. It is presently launching ferocious attacks of an unimaginable proportionin almost all regions of the world, especially in Europe, with Italy as theepicenter of the disease. Africa has started recording cases of the corona virus with South Africa worst affected. Rwanda is in a lockdown. In fact, the BBC has reported that forty percent of the world’s population is in a lockdown. The disease is ravaging Italy, Iran, India, Spain, France and many others, nations which we know have resilient healthcare systems to take care of a disease of any kind. But the corona scourge, also dubbed COVID-19, has proven to be unimaginably overpowering, so pervasive that it hasa great toll on the world economy. Nations are now talking about stimulant package to cushion their economies. It has radically transformed the way the world does its thing; It has changed lives for everyone. Situations are practically abnormal everywhere. Nations where it is hard hit are now in a lockdown, and even those that are yet to experience it are in paranoid fear, in readiness of its invasion. Individuals suspected to have caught the virus are quarantined. According to recent BBC reports, the virus kills more people in Iran in every one minute. People in France are in a lockdown. Over a billion in India are also in a lockdown. Spain is in turmoil as the virus cuts short over 500 lives in 24 hours. People are advised to observe social distancingmeasures and basic personal hygiene practicesin order to keep the pandemic at bay. Large crowds are prohibited in some parts of the world. The wearing of masks and gloves are ubiquitous. The world is now on its toes, and governments are having a headache onhow to combat this pandemic, whose talons,as sinister and murderous as Frankenstein is, can snuff out lives at will regardless of socioeconomic standing. The ominous presence of this pandemic is apocalyptic! It speaks volume of a doomsday affair, signifyingthe presence of Armageddon as it takes the world off its feet.

The thing is,only an irresponsiblegovernment that does not care about its people will take coronafor granted, thatwill say that this pandemic is a hoax, and that it would not come to us. If it were meant to decimate those of the less developed world, given someconspiracy theories, the fact of the matter is that the Western media have made us to know that corona originated in China, and that it is spreading to other parts of Asia, and then to Europe where it is now ravaging lives, except for few cases in Latin America and Africa at the moment. Though Africa and other parts of the developing world are now experiencing the invasion of the scourge, its effects seem to be less pervasive,and they are not as telling as in Europe.

However, experience has taught us that we must be strategic always. We live in a globalized village, and that what takes place somewhere has a tendency to have some sorts of effects anywhere else. Besides, the corona virus is a global epidemic, and that individuals are not tied down to any one particular place. Social networking and physical movements of individuals are all-time high. Nobody cantell whohas been affected by the virus, and who is masquerading with it from one place to another. Cases of sort are a legion. One infected person can decimate a whole generation!

Having said this, one wonders what measures that impoverished Sierra Leonehas put in place to combat the pandemic.  In fact, what is the level of our preparedness? In the event of this scourge in our midst,what is going to be our fate?

Taking a look at the poor level of preparedness against the Ebola scourge few years back, we all saw lives being wasted unnecessarily, because government was not proactive to have put the necessary mechanisms in place on time to prevent the spread of the disease. The authorities deceived the populace by telling them that the scourge would be put under control. But we saw thousands of Sierra Leoneans that perished or left wretched when this monstrous epidemic struck. It struck indeed, leaving the nation’s economy in tatters, and which the authorities are still struggling to get back to its feet.  It struck the hardest and even left the already fragile healthcare delivery system in the country in a worse state.

But we Sierra Leoneans are a set of people who are not ready to learn from our past mistakes. The rapacious rebel war was a clear case in point. The mudslide and flood incidents were another, as well as the Ebola, Lassa Fever, and cholera outbreaks. The list is endless, scary!

How can a nation succeed in surmounting challenges when it is ill-prepared, or when it fails to be strategic in almost everything that it does? As a nation, we need to be always prepared by putting proper contingency plans in place in the case of emergencies, which often come unnoticed.

However, the mechanisms that the Bio administration has put in place seem to be encouraging. In a nationwide broadcast on enhanced public health and safety measures to prevent the corona virus in Sierra Leone last week, President Julius Maada Bio had this to say: “We have implemented stringent entry port surveillance measures at our international airport at Lungi and two major land border posts at Gbalamuya and Gendema. We have instituted robust entry port screening, monitoring, and quarantine arrangements”. He also assured us that he had assumed leadership of all preparations to combat the spread of corona virus. We are told that there are deployments of troops within the borders of Sierra Leone to monitor movements of people into the country. And that naval patrols are present at sea. And that the Lungi International Airport has been closed to all foreign flights. And that individuals who are newly entering into the country are quarantined for a certain period. And that all educational institutions will be closed down by March 31. And that large gatherings of any sort are now prohibited, even church and mosque congregations. That there are robust public health awareness campaigns all over the place. That handshaking and hugging must be avoided at this moment; the essence of social distancing is high on the agenda for the fight against the corona virus. That the Ministry of Health and Sanitation has put mechanismsin place to coordinate initial preparedness and public health education. President Bio further stated that he had alerted our healthcare personnel and strengthened our healthcare system across the country.He urged operators of minibuses, taxis, and tricycles commonly called ‘kekehs’, “to minimize congestion and to provide hand sanitizers for passengers”.He went further yesterday to declare a 12-month state of public health emergency in the country.

All these and more are the mechanisms instituted so far on enhanced public health and safety measures to prevent the corona virus. Actually, we did not see much of these plans during the Ebola era. What we saw were the blatant display of mere rhetoric and falsehood at the time. That was why Ebola got theupperhandto make real nonsense of human lives. Governments are notorious for failing to match words with actions even during crisis periods. Now is the time for the Bio administration to break away from such a negative attitude and work towards improved credibility. Corona is nobody’s friend. And President Bio does have a very tough task at hand to prevail over this virus, which I am seeing as a real test case of his government’s capacity to tackle national problems. Approval rating will be high if only he succeeds in the fight against the epidemic. 

But Sierra Leone’s healthcare infrastructure is in tatters, so to say. Ebola came and made the world to know that we do not have a reliable and resilient healthcare system to combat successfully an epidemic of any sort. And since Ebola went away, I have not seen any tangible effort on the part of government to improve our healthcare architecture.

Even nations that have sophisticated and resilient healthcare systems are struggling to overcome the corona pandemic. A photo of the Italian Prime Minister in tears has left me perturbed. Indeed, his country has a sophisticated healthcare system in place.

Our government must realize that much more have to be done in the health sector, and that there is an urgent need for the health sector to take the lead in terms of resource allocation.

A nation that has a resilient, improved and reliable healthcare system and whose people are conscious of sound health practices stands a better chance of effective disease prevention, treatment, and control. This ultimately leads to improved productivity and economic growth.

ALPHEUS ROGERS teaches media and journalism at Limkokwing University of Creative Technology at Hill Station in Freetown. He is a newspaper editor, poet and screenwriter. Mobile: +23288436967Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.