I had been meaning for some time to write a blog on Ebola. To ease everyone’s fears, present the credible facts, dispose of any hyperbolic reactions, and to calm statements from people back home. Funny how quickly- and drastically- things change. Ebola is very serious and very real. It might sound odd for you to read such a statement, but that is what I have had to tell to many host nationals and locals over the past few weeks. Denial has been the main course of action for far too long in Salone. People are just now as a majority population starting to understand the very real threat of Ebola. It has all too often been the subject of poor jokes, indifference, or outright denial.
Peace Corps’ withdrawal from Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia is testament to the deadly potential and spread of the disease. I have been reminded many times by Peace Corps veterans that our organization has a well cultivated reputation for being one of the toughest service groups, often staying until a situation becomes untenable and safety is no longer guaranteed. It is a point of pride for the organization as a whole, but Peace Corps’ first priority is the safety of its volunteers, its most important asset. The timing of our evacuation is in sync with President Koroma’s declaration of a national state of emergency. Monday, August 4 is to be a national stay at home day for personal reflection as to the seriousness of the disease. People are not to move about the country. As a result, Peace Corps has decided to move quickly before the state of emergency takes place, and before August 4 so as to effectively move us about the country to Lungi airport just outside Freetown.
The death toll for Ebola in West Africa stands at 729 at my last check, with about 240 of those deaths in Sierra Leone. Our biggest concern, aside from the raw total of deaths, cases, and fatality rate of those infected is that the disease has permeated all districts of the country even when measures were taken to quarantine it in first the Kailan District in the far east, and then the Kenema District as well. It is a contagious disease- though not highly contagious- and to think there are cases in all major metropolitan and rural regions of the country despite containment efforts raises serious alarm. We have questions as to how well measures were taken before, and to what degree they will be increased. The deciding factor in our evacuation must surely be the fact that two volunteers in Guinea came into direct contact with known infected individuals within the last few days. They have yet to show signs, but the incubation period lasts between seven and twenty one days. Because of all of this, Peace Corps has decided to err on the side of caution and remove us all from our three respective countries.
I’m sure most of you have many, many questions. I have some answers, but not the time at the moment to present them all because me and my fifty- four other colleagues are in the hectic process of preparing for our evacuation of country, to be undertaken within the next twenty hours. That statement alone does not come close to conveying the maelstrom of stresses that have been placed upon all of us so quickly thrust into this situation. Just know that we are all safe and healthy, and will soon be back in country. Take care, and I will see you all soon!