9 Nov 2014

Ebola: ‘The next four weeks are critical here in Freetown’

The latest assessment from the World Health Organisation describes the Ebola outbreak as “rampant”.

An experienced Red Cross official here in Freetown put it simply: “To be clear, we don’t have control of the situation in this country and in this city in particular.

“And there is little experience of a densely populated zone like Freetown handling Ebola.”

And still there is no Ebola hospital in the capital. True, the Kerry Town British facility has 80 beds but is geographically outside Freetown itself.

The bed shortage remains dire.

The British-run command and control centre in Freetown handles all those calling 117 to report illness or worse for body retrieval teams – but only if you know the number.


Education is vital. Without that they will go on burying people. The impressive British effort will go on too “because it is the safest way if protecting people in the UK from Ebola”.

But education is hard. By tradition you wash the bodies of the dead here but dead Ebola body will have blood, vomit diarrhoea and fluids emerging from any possible orifice. Fluid spreads the virus. A body is a time-bomb. The implications for traditional washing are obvious.

But children’s songs about hand washing and not touching are helping. Schools are shut in this no-touch city. Beloved football teams closed or doing no- contact training.


Airports and hotels have people alarmingly pointing temperature guns at your head, chlorine hand washes close by. At first slightly unsettling, increasingly reassuring to know you are under 37c.

But you hear it everywhere in Freetown, the same phrase: “The next four weeks are critical.”

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