From the Editor’s Keyboard

Coronavirus: The things the Sierra Leone government has done right

7 April 2020 at 18:40 | 912 views

Commentary

By Mustapha Wai, USA

1. What the government has done right
The campaign started with the right "tone at the top" with President Bio treating the outbreak with the level of seriousness it deserves and acting in a timely manner. Vice President Juldeh Jalloh reportedly went undercover recently at a remote border crossing point in the south of the country to have firsthand experience in the effectiveness of border closure restrictions. This is how an effective tone at the tope is displayed.

2. Creating the legal framework to facilitate response
In addition to the many Presidential Directives issued in a timely manner, the Bio administration declared a "Public State of Emergency" that was voted on and approved by Parliament. The SOE grants frontline response teams the ability to identify, trace contacts, isolate and treat the infected. It also gives authority to the central Government to allocate resources, impose restrictions and manage the crisis effectively.

3. Activating response mechanism in a timely way
Weeks before the first case of Coronavirus was confirmed in Sierra Leone, experienced members of the former Ebola response team were called upon. Former Ebola treatment facilities were activated. Re-fresher training was offered to former Ebola workers. Surveillance and preventive measures were implemented at the airport, including a 14-day quarantine mandated for incoming travelers from Coronavirus hotspots. Flights were subsequently grounded, and land border entry points were closed.

4. Timely testing and contact tracing
All suspected cases have been tested within 24-hours. Unlike other countries, there is absolutely no waiting-time to get tested. Contacts have been traced and isolated timely, and in some cases tested at once. For example, seven closed contacts with the second confirmed case were all tested withing 24 to 48 hours.

5.Effective communication and community awareness/Outreach
The daily press briefing, the Nation’s addresses by President Bio, coupled with media engagements have been on point. Outreach to community and religious leaders have resulted in closure of Churches and Mosques without the confrontations we see elsewhere.

6. Listening to and acting on public feedback
The Government has been listening and using public feedback to help inform policy and interventions. In response to public outcry over the treatment of travelers in quarantine at the Lungi Hotel, Chief Minister and a team visited the site immediately and the condition was addressed as once. Citizens called for grounding of flights and it was done immediately. Citizens called for closure of land border entry points and it was done. Citizens called for a lockdown and it has been scheduled. A listening government will do well in managing an emergency because the public will be prepared to cooperate.

Room for improvement
1. Logistics and equipment
The country does not have enough supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and ventilators should the outbreak spread and demand increases. The Government should move fast to acquire more. Ambulances should be serviced, and drivers enlisted. District treatment centers should be in readiness, so cases are not transported across district lines to isolation and treatment centers.

2. Develop and implement a social-safety stimulus package
The badly needed lockdowns and quarantines will end up turning into a nightmare for the vast majority if the people do not have access to food, water, electricity and other necessities. Government should consider preparing an emergency stimulus package for the ordinary people, especially the poor and most vulnerable in the society. During the civil war, people were going in the streets in search of food and water when bullets were flying. If a flying bullet did not stop a hungry man, a "flying Coronavirus droplet" will not.

3. Enlisting the help of specialists and experts
In addition to medical experts, military personnel, and communication specialists, the response team must include people with diverse expertise in disaster management, logistics and risk management. The Government should ensure local expertise from former Ebola frontline workers are utilized at all levels in the crisis management.

4.Reapportion funds and prepare a Coronavirus Emergency Response budget
The Fiscal 2020 budget that was approved by Parliament was based on assumptions that have fundamentally changed. Many of the estimated funding sources and related revenue projections will be no more, while others will fall short of budgets by significant amounts. Furthermore, resource allocations and expenditure priorities must change to reflect the realities brought by the crisis at hand. For example, funding previously allocated for certain capital projects, external travel, etc., can now be re-allocated to life-saving Coronavirus response. As donor countries continue to struggle to combat the virus themselves, the Government should not count on aid in the near future.

5. Accountability and transparency for Coronavirus funds and operation
Earlier on, we saw rogue actors sneaking people out of quarantine facilities and through closed borders. Like Ebola funds, some greedy elements are going to look for opportunities to misappropriate funds and resources. A rigid internal control mechanism must be put in place to prevent and/or detect wrongdoing. A special "Inspector General" may be assigned to perform independent oversight of emergency resources. This will serve as a deterrence and the Government will not have to chase stolen monies later using an audit.

6. Boost for local production
In addition to Coronavirus emergency response, the Government should embark on boosting local production, especially in the area of food. The risk of a global supply chain interruption is eminent amid lockdowns across the world. A country that relies heavily on imports to feed its people will be faced with a high risk of hunger if the outbreak lingers for a long period. Most of the food currently on the market has been in the country before the outbreak. Additional imports may not be forthcoming as expected.

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