Air Peace



In Sierra Leone by presidential decree, everyone who has been in close contact with a dead Ebola victim must be quarantined and put out of direct contact with other citizens who are still unaffected.

All houses where such deaths have occurred are put under strict quarantine, with meals permitted through the cordon by the health department. Nobody goes in or comes out.

A house in Freetown where Saudatu Koroma had died in the hands of her parents has supposedly been put under such quarantine.

Two police officers are posted outside to ensure the quarantine is respected, but that is mere photo trick. Visitors streamed in and out, many of them family members and well-wishers who should not be there. Outside on the verandah sat Saudatu’s parents in whose arms she had joined her ancestors.

However, few days after Saudatu passed on her mother, Anna Conté, regularly fills her teapot from the community water pipe used by dozens of others. The policemen make no effort to stop her. 

In Sierra Leone, the nation with the most cases of the disease in West Africa, the government has decreed a broad state of emergency — telling families to stay at home for “reflection, education and prayers” — and has ordered strict new measures, like the ban on many public gatherings and the quarantine edict.

“The very essence of our nation is at stake,” President Ernest Bai Koroma had said in a televised address.

But that tough stance is being compromised by loose enforcement that is putting in harm’s way the doctors and health care workers trying to stem the rapid spread of the virus.

“Ebola doesn’t permit a halfway engagement,” Walter Lorenzi, the chief of mission of the Doctors without Borders in Freetown, said. His group, which has been in the thick of the fight from Day One, has declared the Ebola epidemic out of control in Sierra Leone and its West African neighbours.

“It’s not astonishing that it is spreading,” Mr. Lorenzi added, unhappy with the local effort to fight it. “You’ve got to attend to the smallest details.”

The outbreak was first identified in March in Guinea’s remote Forest Region. Since then, it has spread with a deadly swiftness, spilling over porous borders in one of the poorest parts of Africa. The epidemic also flew by air into Nigeria after an American working in Liberia flew to Africa’s most populous nation, and died there.

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