Sierra Leone speaks out on Ebola: Historic online press conference

The Honorable Alhaji Alpha Kanu (photo), Sierra Leone’s Information and Communications Minister, has made history when he today faced the international media in a live online press conference that c

Sierra Leone speaks out on Ebola: Historic online press conference

The Honorable Alhaji Alpha Kanu (photo), Sierra Leone’s Information and Communications Minister, has made history when he today faced the international media in a live online press conference that centered largely on the Ebola scourge. Very few ministers on the continent of Africa have faced the international media in this way, which makes the event a historic first not only in Sierra Leone but for many parts of Africa.

The online press conference was facilitated by the African Press Organization and Minister Kanu appeared and spoke directly from his office at the Ministry of Information and Communications in Freetown with President Ernest Koroma’s photo behind him.

Alhaji Kanu started the online press conference by giving an overview of what the Sierra Leone government and partners have been doing to contain the ebola menace. He said there have been so far 5000 confirmed cases of ebola in Sierra Leone (out of which 1500 have passed away). There have been many survivors, he said, and no new cases have appeared in the areas the outbreak started in the east of the country.

The government of Sierra Leone, he continued, has so far allocated 90 billion Leones (20 million US dollars) to the fight against the disease while the British government has, through a donors’ conference, raised 120 million pounds that has been distributed to non-governmental organizations like Save the Children and UNICEF and not to the Sierra Leone government. Other countries, he added, have also contributed in various way to fight the disease.

The Information Minister who revealed that online conferences like today’s will from now on be done on a weekly basis, pointed out that there has been a lot of social mobilization and sensitization about the disease but the main problems now faced by government are the fact that some people still cling to cultural practices like touching and washing dead bodies and the limited number of treatment centres and beds but that (limited treatment centres) will soon be a thing of the past with an increasing number of beds and treatment centres; while curtailing inimical cultural practices is being addressed through traditional leaders. He also announced that all deaths in the country will now be given ” a dignified medical burial.”

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Minister Alpha Kanu took several questions from journalists from all over the world. One of the questions he dealt with was why the current upsurge in new cases in the country while there is a decrease in neighbouring countries. He said there is an upsurge because people now feel confident to show up at hospitals and treatment centres unlike before and that since the outbreak started in neighbouring countries it is but natural for them to start seeing a decline after having put preventive measures in place. He also praised American health workers who have rapidly put in place field tents as temporary holding and treatment centres thus quickly removing ebola-infected individuals from the various communities, thereby breaking the transmission chain of the disease. In Sierra Leone, he pointed out, the British medical team are building concrete and mortar treatment centres that take time but they will soon finish doing that. He also spoke on the possibility of another countrywide lock down to identify and remove infected individuals from their communities to be later taken to holding and treatment centres.

There was a question of the new teaching program on radio and television for school children currently not attending school. He said it’s very popular with the kids and it’s apparently doing well and will likely be continued after the ebola menace. He also spoke about ebola orphans that are currently being taken care of by government through the Ministry of Social Welfare and non-governmental organizations.

Alpha Kanu addressed the “Danger Money” strike by some burial team members in Kenema, eastern Sierra Leone. He said the delay in the payment of the so-called Danger Money was due to the fact that the people processing those payments needed more time and so those payments will from now on be made on a fortnightly basis instead of the former weekly payments.

Here is a video of the online press conference:

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