The reason? Somewhere in Nigeria’s sprawling capital of Abuja, at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice, three Judges from Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast had reconvened to hear a joinder application on whether SLAES should be allowed to join a suit as a fourth applicant, in the matter between the Government of Sierra Leone on one side, and two Ebola health worker survivors and the civil society body, CARL (Centre for Accountability and the Rule of Law) on the other.
The health workers and CARL In December 2017 sued the Government of Sierra Leone, led at the time by Ernest Bai Koroma over alleged mismanagement and disappearance of Ebola funds to the tune of 14 million US Dollars. This, according to the plaintiffs amounts to a violation of their rights to life and health.
Mohamed expected good news. Instead, he received some bad news. The court ruled that SLAES cannot be a plaintiff in the matter. As Secretary General of the over 4,000 certified Ebola survivors organisation, this was a significant setback. Mohamed was distraught. It was like adding iodine to a wound that shows no signs of healing.
Even before the hearing, the 29 -year-old Mohamed wore a forlorn face. As a consequence of the Ebola outbreak, his dreams of continuing to practice his cherished job, nursing, paused. Now, he worries every day about where the next meal would come from for him, about his wife, his three kids and four other orphans who are with him at Maju Drive, Waterloo, on the outskirts of Freetown. Often, on terrible days, he would send the family to bed on ‘gari’ (cassava roots, dried and ground into a flour that needs no cooking to be eaten) hoping that some Good Samaritan might wave a magic wand at him and bring forth a few cups of rice.
Fending for himself and his family is not Mohamed’s only worry. A survivor of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, he joins a list of over 2000 Ebola survivors who complain daily of Ebola health-related problems, such as erectile dysfunction, male infertility, headaches, abnormal menstrual irregularity, joint pain, hearing problem and fatigue.
Before the outbreak, Mohamed had been working as a nurse at the United Council of Imams Hospital at Allen Town in Freetown. His uncle, Alhaji Vandy Lansana Quee, was the doctor in charge of the hospital. Having graduated with a certificate in community health nursing from Pawell Nursing School in that same vicinity, he was fast learning the ropes. Life was good, and his dad was very helpful. He even considered returning to school to further his nursing career.
Then the Ebola outbreak began around May 2014. Fourteen people who had returned from a funeral of a traditional healer, who had attempted to cure others with the virus in neighbouring Guinea, were believed to be the index patients. Mohamed lost ten members of his family including his dad, uncle, brothers and several cousins. He got infected and survived. But he lost all his property. In the three countries combined, close to 12,000 lives were lost or perished, and a total of 28,606 cases of the virus were reported.
Like Mohamed and the thousands of other survivors in the country, expectations of the government were enormous. The previous government promised them thousands of dollars, housing, free medical services and other social and economic amenities. Some got 250,000 Leones (less than 50 US Dollars), no shelter, and the free medical turned out not to be free at all.
Despite the debilitating conditions of the Ebola survivors, the current government is yet to vigorously pursue a review and a reform of procurement and budgeting policies that will prevent a repeat of such an anomaly in the future.
Survivors still complain about the lack of medical and mental health support, stigmatization, joblessness, lack of job training opportunities and educational support for them. Mohamed says this has made it extremely difficult for them to fully reintegrate into mainstream society. Some of the survivors also cater to the educational, housing and feeding needs of orphaned kids whose parents succumbed to the virus.
It is, however, important to note that the Bio administration in its 2018 Government Transition Report and other interventions committed to investigate and prosecute individuals suspected of stealing the Ebola funds and recover such funds to compensate the victims and survivors. This has yet to happen. Meanwhile, survivors continue to suffer in anguish, and some have died. As at the last count, 65 members of SLAES have died as a result of health complications not unconnected to the Ebola infection. Other survivors across the country may have suffered the same fate, though not recorded.
As an established organisation representing survivors across the country, SLAES is in good standing to articulate the rights and other concerns of the general community of survivors. They can also help in ensuring that a more comprehensive and rights-based approach to providing remedies for the survivors is put in place. However, the three Judges thought otherwise.
Putting the law and the ECOWAS Court aside, it is not only the responsibility of the government to cater for the need of our survivors; it is an obligation. Granted that this was a problem they inherited but they cannot and should not shy away from it. The remedies the survivors and CARL are calling for are not only for themselves but for all Sierra Leoneans.
For now, we continue to await the outcome of the ECOWAS Court; but time is of the essence. Survivors continue to live in perpetual hardship. Some of them may have survived the deadly haemorrhagic fever but time and tide wait for no one. They keep struggling with and even dying from complicated health problemsthat are preventable if a pragmatic and speedy approach had been put in place to address their plight.
While it is the Ebola survivors today, the question is: which survivor would survive another onslaught of Ebola or a natural disaster like the mudslide or some huge fire outbreak? There is genuine fear by Mohamed and other survivors that the country has not done much to avoid another Ebola outbreak, this is worrisome!
To save our nation from another catastrophe (I am not talking about one with bullets and guns), we must pay close attention to what is happening to the Ebola case at the ECOWAS Court in Nigeria. Importantly, the current administration should heed to the call for remedies for the survivors and set up a disaster preparedness structure to avert another crisis of alarming and disastrous proportion. A word for to the wise…