What You Need To Know About Sierra Leone And Ebola

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Sierra Leone is one of three West African nations hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is there and has the latest.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish. As of today, nearly 900 people in West Africa have died from Ebola. That's 900 out of about 1,600 who've been infected. The World Health Organization says the outbreak is outrunning efforts to contain it, and Sierra Leone is one of three countries hardest hit. And hundreds of members of the Sierra Leone military have been deployed to implement quarantines. People have been told to stay home for the day. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joins us now from Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown. And, Ofeibea, describe for us the scene if everybody is laying low.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: And they have. The streets have been completely empty. Most people are in their front yards or in their compounds. No taxis - absolutely no cars on the roads. So everybody is observing the stay-at-home here in Freetown, the capital, and all over the country.

CORNISH: Can you give us more detail about how Sierra Leone is trying to contain the spread of Ebola?

QUIST-ARCTON: Last week President Ernest Bai Koroma, who already has been criticized for not having done enough - and the authorities not doing enough - declared a public health emergency. And as part of the tough new measures he said that it would be the security forces - the Army and the police - who would enforce quarantines of communities where Ebola has been found - cities, towns, even homes. And the question is how are Sierra Leoneans going to respond to this because, of course, Ebola is a frightening disease. It's one that's not known in West Africa. This is the first serious outbreak this year. And there is fear. There is suspicion. Health workers have been attacked and health facilities because some have said, well, it's these people who have brought this killer disease to us.

CORNISH: Now, we've also heard of measures being taken at airports taken to prevent those with infections from traveling. What did you see when you arrived?

QUIST-ARCTON: Before we even got to the arrivals terminal, we had to wash our hands in chlorinated water - water with - well, it smelled as if there - as if it was chlorine in it. And then before we got immigration, we had our temperatures taken with a noncontact gun. And those whose temperature is high will be pulled aside. All the people I came with on the plane, including myself, were able to go through. So these are the sorts of measures that the authorities not just here in Sierra Leone, but also in neighboring Liberia where these stiff measures are also enforced are being taken. West Africa is finally taking this disease seriously. Say many people from this region, that it could affect any country because the borders are so porous, so why has it taken so long for the authorities to take action?

CORNISH: Ofeibea, going beyond West Africa for a moment, the World Health Organization has announced plans to launch a hundred-million-dollar effort to contain the virus. What's been the level of international intervention in Sierra Leone?

QUIST-ARCTON: Here, neighboring Liberia and Guinea people are saying, well, why hasn't the world got more involved because anyone can be killed by this virus? - which, as you know, Audie, and I'm sure the listeners have heard, is devastating. You start off with maybe a cold - flu symptoms, diarrhea, vomiting, but anyone who comes into close bodily contact with secretions, blood, saliva, etc. can be infected. So how come the world hasn't done more? You know, money - yes. But we need more experienced people on the ground say the health workers. And its health workers who are also paying the cost of this because they are the ones also becoming infected. So I think, finally, the message has got through. Something has got to be done now - immediately or, as the WHO chief said, there could be catastrophic consequences of this Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Ofeibea, thank you.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

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