Paramount Chief Caulker launched Bumpeh Chiefdom’s third and most comprehensive Ebola control program last week. After two small outbreaks in chiefdom villages, he knew something more was needed. They need to actually break the chain of Ebola transmission. And this is what the chiefdom has set out to do.
Bumpeh Chiefdom conducted “sensitization” campaigns (awareness training) along with the rest of the country. Young volunteers went to public places and door to door educating people on symptoms of Ebola and how to protect yourself. The chiefdom implemented one of the first community-led Ebola prevention programs in August, setting up more than 200 hand washing stations in public places with more education.
But “Ebola refugees” are now desparately fleeing infected towns and cities to hide with family and friends in rural villages. These exposed and some already sick people are carrying the Ebola virus into chiefdoms around the country by seeking care from people they know. Dangerously overloaded city hospitals and treatment centers offer little care or must turn people away. Fifteen people tragically died in quarantine in a small village outside Rotifunk last month after a sick woman fled there and died.
Even though Bumpeh Chiefdom was put under an isolation order with security manned checkpoints, borders are porous. People avoid main roads and walk in. Or talk their way in. More infected people found their way in last week, causing four more chiefdom villages to go under quarantine. If chiefdoms continue to react to Ebola cases after they are visibly sick or die, the entire chiefdom is at serious risk.
More can and must be done to break the chain of transmission of Ebola. The Paramount Chiefs have to date been woefully underutilized and under-resourced by the government in curbing the Ebola epidemic. But with some support, they are poised to take action against Ebola in every community, down to the smallest villages. Major interventions can be made and they don’t cost millions of dollars.
Paramount Chiefs are a long established institution in Sierra Leone. Independent of the central government, these grass-roots leaders are bound to their people by generations of tradition and family. Together, they represent every kilometer of the country, urban and rural alike. They are familiar to their people, and trusted in this fearful time. They are best positioned to quickly identify and isolate new Ebola cases, and arrange for them to be taken for treatment.
For the coming months, Bumpeh Chiefdom is mobilizing to visit every household in the chiefdom daily. Village chiefs are responsible for daily checks and reports on health status and persons residing there, including arrival of strangers and any departures. Fifty checkpoints throughout the chiefdom are being set up to monitor movement in and out of the chiefdom on small roads, frequented footpaths and river traffic. Paramount chiefs can take custody of all deceased bodies until safe burial is arranged. People are being trained and equipped to do safe local burials of highly infectious corpses, rather than waiting for days for a government burial team to remove them from the community for burial. These tasks will all be done by committed chiefdom representatives.
The National Council of Paramount Chiefs, representing all 149 chiefdoms, defined this plan to break the chain of transmission of Ebola, in conjunction with the Ministry of Local Government. Paramount Chief (P.C.) Charles Caulker, Chairman of the National Council of Paramount Chiefs, introduced the plan last week in his own Bumpeh Chiefdom of 208 villages. Other Paramount Chiefs around the country are committed to doing the same.
Many Americans want to help but don’t know how. We suggest two ways: 1) Urge our government to translate Ebola aid into quick, practical action; 2) Contribute to implementing the plan of the Paramount Chiefs through existing nonprofits on-the-ground with effective ties to Sierra Leone communities. Sherbro Foundation Sierra Leone (SFSL) is one.
Sherbro Foundation Sierra Leone is helping fund Bumpeh Chiefdom’s Ebola action plan and working in partnership with the chiefdom Ebola task force. For $5 USD, each of P.C. Caulker’s 208 village chiefs will monitor every village for three months, including daily door-to-door visits, recording all persons removed to quarantine, holding and treatment centers, and recording deaths. Checkpoints to control the movement of sick or “at risk” people into and out of the Chiefdom need similar support for staffing, transportation and cell phone costs. SFSL already funded 200 portable hand washing stations with disinfectant for public places across the Chiefdom as a first line of defense against Ebola. The chiefdom needs 200 more to cover all villages at $20 USD each.
Support is urgently needed by the Paramount Chiefs to implement local level Ebola action plans in Bumpeh and other Chiefdoms. With our support, they will have the ability to break the chain of transmission.
We need your help right now. For information on how to donate, please go to www.sherbrofoundation.org/donate.
Help us more by passing this on to a friend. There’s no time to waste.
Executive Director, Sherbro Foundation