Sierra Leone declares nationwide quarantine

by Karen L. Willoughby, |
A map of West Africa shows the Ebola virus hot zone of the combined countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (Christian Examiner) – President Ernest Koroma of Sierra Leone has ordered the entire nation to stay at home for three days to curb the unrelenting number of new cases of Ebola is this impoverished West African nation. Every person in the country will be quarantined in their respective households from 6 a.m. March 27 until 6 p.m. March 29.

"The future of our country and the aspirations of our children are at stake," Koroma told local news media. The three-day lockdown builds on an earlier "house arrest" for people living in the capital Freetown and northern areas of the country. It is a repeat of a similar nationwide shut-down last September.

"I call on every Sierra Leonean in every community to pull together," the president continued. "The economic development of our country and the lives of our people continue to be threatened by the ongoing presence of Ebola in Sierra Leone."

Palo Conteh, CEO of the National Ebola Response Center, said the government and its partners are hopeful the shut-down "will bring out latent cases that are not being reported or recorded," according to the Sierra Leone News and Information (SLNI) news service.

The shut-down will re-sensitize people on the need for precautions as well as detect possible lines of transmission of the virus, Conteh explained. Last September's shut-down "was provent o be very effective at highlighting the extent of the crisis," according to SLNI.

This latest epidemic – Ebola has been an African scourge since it was first identified in 1976 – started with the death in December 2013 of a 2-year-old boy in Guinea. Researchers later determined he had contracted the disease after playing in a hollow tree that was inhabited high up by diseased fruit bats leaving traces of Ebola in their feces that spattered the walls and ground inside the tree.

His death was determined in March 2014 to be Ebola-related. Over the course of the last 12 months, 10,251 people have died and 24,788 have contracted the disease in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The latest situation report for the World Health Organization lists 92 new infections in the patient database for Guinea for the week ending March 15, and 55 for Sierra Leone.

None were reported for Liberia which had not seen a new case in at least three weeks. However, after the official report was published, news acocunts said a woman had been admitted for treatment, attributing her infection to her husband, a survivor of the disease, likely from his sperm, which can contain the Ebola virus for up to 82 days.

Leaders of these three West African nations have set a goal of eradicating Ebola in their countries by April 16 -- a goal described by WHO authorities as theoretically possible but "extremely difficult."

"I have made it my personal commitment to do whatever it takes to get to zero Ebola infections," President Koroma said.