A systematic way to enforce community Ebola procedures has been missing in Sierra Leone’s Ebola outbreak, enabling the disease to spread around the country. Paramount Chiefs are now authorized by the Sierra Leone government to do this.
The National Council of Paramount Chiefs developed a national template for individual chiefdom byelaws on managing Ebola at the community level.
The “Byelaws on the Prevention of Ebola and other Diseases” were approved by the Honorable Minister of Local Government and Rural Development and made pursuant to the Public Health Emergency declared by the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone and approved by Parliament on Friday 8th August 2014 under section 29 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone Act No. 6 of 1991.
Paramount Chiefs are now expected to adopt these byelaws into their chiefdom byelaws and enforce the provisions. Beyond imposing fines, chiefdom authorities have the right to pursue legal action in the Local Courts or courts of higher jurisdiction, for flagrant violations of these byelaws.
The Sierra Leone Government had identified many community practices and procedures necessary to stop the spread of Ebola. But they did not have the ability to uniformly enforce them in all corners of the country, especially once you leave the few provincial cities.
Paramount chiefs are a long standing country institution that ensures basic law and order, management of local land rights and maintaining traditional practices. There are 149 chiefdoms that cover every part of the country, with cascading chiefdom authorities down to the village level. But they are an institution separate from the Sierra Leone Government, and were not directly authorized to enforce Ebola practices established by the government.
P.C. Charles Caulker, chair of the National Council of Paramount Chiefs, worked with the NCPC to harmonize byelaws some chiefdoms had started initiating on Ebola. They worked with the Honorable Minister of Local Government and Rural Development to finalize a national document , have it accepted by the Government Cabinet, and then approved by Parliament on August 8.
Paramount chiefs are now expected to introduce and enforce these provisions as chiefdom byelaws. They include nineteen provisions and authorize chiefs to impose fines of up to Five Hundred Thousand Leones (Le.500, 000) and/or a term of Six (6) months imprisonment for any breach of these provisions.
The provisions include Communication of Ebola, where no one can harbor a person suspected of having contracted Ebola and all strangers arriving in any residential area shall be immediately reported by their host, guest house or hotel to the competent chiefdom authorities.
They continue to Treatment of Ebola where only personnel part of recognized facilities for the treatment of these diseases can be involved in treatment of any Ebola patient. Provisions for quarantine and receiving recovered Ebola patients back into their communities are given.
Provisions for Death and Burial are defined. Miscellaneous provisions temporarily prohibit public gatherings, including Luma markets and Secret Society activities, and the hunting and selling bush meat. Public places, including those of worship, are encouraged to have hand washing buckets with chlorinated water.
Any chief, including paramount chiefs, found negligent in the application and enforcement of the Bye-laws is liable to a fine of Five Hundred Thousand Leones (Le.500,000) and / or summary suspension from office.
Directly engaging paramount chiefs and authorizing them to enforce community Ebola practices will go a long way to controlling the current outbreak. This hopefully also represents a new level of working relationship between the government and the country’s traditional leaders.