Workers Hand Out Soap And Advice As Sierra Leone Locks Down
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed thousands of people. Governments in the countries that have been most devastated are desperate to contain the epidemic. Sierra Leone is in the midst of a hard, vast experiment to try to stop the virus. For three days, no one in the country is allowed to leave home. Yesterday was the first day of Sierra Leone's lockdown. Teams of workers have gone door to door trying to educate people about the disease and to look for unreported cases. But as NPR's Anders Kelto reports from Freetown, things haven't gotten off to a smooth start.
ANDERS KELTO, BYLINE: It's 8 in the morning, and people are packed into a community health center on the west side of town. Some have fluorescent vests; others have white T-shirts that say "Prevent Ebola."
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And we'll move next to team two.
KELTO: A government official is putting people into teams. Many of these workers are young like James Kargbo. He's 25 and a schoolteacher. And he says he came here today because he wants to help his country defeat Ebola.
JAMES KARGBO: We only have one Sierra Leone. And if we allow this deadly virus, Ebola, to ravage our society, who will accommodate us? Already, other African countries, they are despising us. So if we allow this disease to take hold, at the end of the day, we're all going to be victim.
KELTO: James and the others are ready to go. There's just one problem - none of the stuff they're supposed to deliver has arrived. Three hours later, people start to get really impatient including a college student named Abdul Aziz Isay (ph).
ABDUL AZIZ ISAY: Well, of course, it's a total commotion in the whole health center.
KELTO: A commotion?
ISAY: A commotion, yes, because people are just confused. In order for them to know the group that it belong, the community that they are about to go and reassess, you know, people are just confused.
KELTO: Finally a big truck pulls up.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Ah, the supplies are here already.
KELTO: The truck is filled with bars of soap. Educational posters, which were supposed to be hung on people's homes, haven't arrived. But the teams head out on foot anyway.
One group ventures into an area of open sewers and wooden shacks right next to the ocean. There are kids everywhere, and the homes are practically stacked on top of each other. Juliana Karimu, a nurse, gathers a group of people and starts telling them about Ebola.
JULIANA KARIMU: Well, let me give you me own view of Ebola. (Foreign language spoken).
KELTO: She says Ebola can kill. And if one person gets sick, so can their whole family. But one way to keep yourself safe, she says, is to scrub your hands regularly with soap and water.
KARIMU: Make sure you use this soap, wash your hand.
KELTO: Someone fetches a bowl of water so she can demonstrate. As the demo continues, another team member distributes bars of soap. Many people ask for more. The educators depart, and a woman named Mariatu Fofanah turns back to her cassava stew, which is simmering over a small fire. I ask her what she thinks of this three-day Ebola lock down.
MARIATU FOFANAH: (Speaking Krio).
KELTO: She says, to be honest, it's making her life difficult. She can't sell food on the street. That's her usual form of work. And it's really hard to feed her kids. But she says she'll somehow manage.
I leave the area and head into downtown Freetown. Normally, it's jam-packed with people, but now it's completely abandoned. The only sound is a police van driving slowly and blasting a song about Ebola.
>>KELTO; The lyrics say Ebola is real. It's a terrible disease. There's no cure. You can hear the song playing throughout the empty streets. Anders Kelto, NPR News, Freetown, Sierra Leone.
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