Sierra Leone, a country still recovering from the ravages of the 2014-2016 Ebola Epidemic is once again fighting stigma and trust as it faces the coronavirus.
The usually sleepy compound of the Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) of Sierra Leone’s Health ministry, has recently been busy.
Everyone here is masked, in accordance with the Covid-19 policy of the government.
The EOC, housed within the headquarters of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces in Freetown, is under the Directorate of Health Security in the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, and it’s the command centre for the national Covid-19 response.
Sierra Leone was the last country to report a positive case of the coronavirus in West Africa, on March 30.
As of Thursday April 16, it had 15 cases, one of the lowest on the continent.
It is a stark contrast to the situation in neighbouring Guinea and Liberia, where cases seem to be increasing exponentially. As of Wednesday, Liberia had 59 cases, while Guinea had 404.
Amid efforts to contain the spread of the virus, an urgent concern has emerged for health authorities: Last week there was shock as two men who had tested positive went ‘’missing’’ as an ambulance wove its way to collect them.
Although the EOC has denied this, the incident is reminiscent of the situation in the 2014-16 Ebola epidemic, when emergency responders faced stiff resistance from community people.
There were reports of people refusing to be quarantined. It also later turned out that many people died as a result of wrong diagnosis and kept with Ebola infected people where they contracted the virus.
Unlike Ebola, the fear of stigma is proving to be a major obstacle to the Covid-19 response.
Locals associate an ambulance with infection and may loathe any person suspected of the illness.
Officials now negotiate with the sick to see the importance of going to hospital.