Hundreds of potential new cases of Ebola were identified during a three-day "lockdown" in Sierra Leone March 27-29. Officials announced on Sunday that the bodies of 40 people had already been removed from their homes and 172 sick people were transported to hospitals during the first two days.
During the lockdown, community health workers went door to door investigating deaths not reported to the government and reminding households of the dangers of traditional burials, a key factor in the spread of the virus. Aid and healthcare workers are concerned that the coming of rains may complicate the fight against Ebola by washing away roads, making it harder to reach affected areas.
Most of the nation’s population of 6 million was quarantined in their homes for the three days. An exception was made for World Vision’s 30 burial teams, which continue to work around the clock to provide safe and dignified interment for Ebola victims.
“This stay-home is an extreme measure in an extreme crisis,” says Leslie Scott, World Vision’s national director in Sierra Leone. He says community engagement needs to be scaled up so that “people own the messages about hazardous traditional practices, such as washing the deceased, and adopt safe burial practices instead.”
In December, health experts estimated that 70 percent of Ebola transmissions in Sierra Leone could be attributed to unsafe burials. The bodies of Ebola victims carry high levels of the virus.
Ebola transmission persists
New cases of Ebola are still being reported each week in Sierra Leone a year after the epidemic began. However, in a marked improvement, no cases of unsafe burials were recorded for the same period.
Some 275 workers have been trained and equipped to conduct funeral care that protects family members from contamination while honoring the dead. Since November, World Vision’s 30 teams have conducted 4,700 burials for Ebola victims and others in Sierra Leone. These areas have all seen a significant decrease in new infections since the work began.
For the week ended March 22, there were 33 new Ebola cases in Sierra Leone, 45 in Guinea, and one in Liberia, which had seen no new cases for the previous three weeks.
As of March 26, the World Health Organization identified 25,000 confirmed and suspected Ebola cases since the outbreak began in West Africa; nearly 12,000 of those have been in Sierra Leone.