Ebola: Mass quarantines in Sierra Leone causing unnecessary hardship

December 5, 2014
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Sierra Leone: Mass quarantines causing unnecessary hardship and risk further spread of Ebola warns Oxfam

Efforts to contain the spread of Ebola through poorly implemented mass quarantine of communities in Sierra Leone are causing unnecessary hardship and are at risk of further spreading the deadly disease warned international agency Oxfam today.
New quarantines being announced this week in Tonkolili mean now six out of Sierra Leone’s fourteen districts have been affected by quarantine measures.

As a last resort measure, well-implemented quarantines can contribute to halt the spread of Ebola. However, Oxfam said that they are concerned that many communities under quarantine are cut off from earning a living and are not able to access services and basic rights such as health care, food and water. In some areas where Oxfam works, as many as 500 people share one public toilet. 

In Freetown, Oxfam is distributing hygiene kits to people in quarantined areas.  People have reported to Oxfam that a lack of food, water and essential services such as non-Ebola related health care support is forcing them to cross the quarantine line. Lack of access to sanitation services is also a major concern. This is causing intolerable conditions for people who were already struggling to cope with very high levels of poverty.

 "The Ebola crisis is far from over and in Sierra Leone, the number of new cases continues to rise," said Oxfam Canada's Humanitarian Manager Ann Witteveen. "While extraordinary efforts are needed to curtail the spread of the disease we must be really careful that we implement these with adequate support and forethought so that they don’t cause even more suffering and hardship as people try to cope with the impact of Ebola on their livelihoods.”

Oxfam warned that this is likely to undermine efforts to stop the spread of the disease.
During a recent distribution in Susan’s Bay, a slum area in the centre of Freetown, 43 year-old Patrick Kamara told Oxfam that he wanted to respect the quarantine in his area, but could not survive much longer without food and water.

“Quarantine is very difficult. I am a government worker. I have a family. I used to walk to work, and then got food for my family. But now we are in quarantine, and life is very difficult. We don’t have any water to drink in our houses. We also need it to cook. We used to have breakfast in the morning, but now we have no provisions.”

He also described the stigmatization people face if they defy the quarantine to search for food and water, often coming back empty handed.

“Whenever people go to buy these things” he said, referring to food and water, “they refuse us. They say this is Ebola money. You are Ebola people. We are badly stigmatized.”  

Thynn Thynn Hlaing, Oxfam’s Country Director in Sierra Leone, said “Quarantines must be seen as a last-resort.  There are clear legal principles and every effort must be made to maintain people’s rights. Poorly implemented quarantines make life even harder on communities who, in many cases, are already poor, marginalized and vulnerable.
“The danger is that people will try and avoid quarantines, and there will be a knock-on effect with people under-report infections and deaths, or trying to care for Ebola victims at home, thereby furthering the spread of the killer disease.”

The Sierra Leone National Ebola Response Centre has recently issued new quarantine protocols but without adequate coordination and sufficient resources from the UN and other agencies to support people Oxfam warned the new approach might fail. The international aid agency called on the Sierra Leone government and UN agencies to guarantee that basic needs are met as part of the quarantining process.

For more information contact:
Katia Gianneschi

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