Football lovers in Gbalamuya village in Kambia county, Sierra Leone, a region bordering Guinea, are at a loss this football season as they are forced to forgo their favourite matches on the big screen.
They are gripped by fear of the vicious Ebola virus. Their concern stems from the fact the disease is primarily spread through exchange of body fluids, including sweat. Gatherings of people increase the risk of new infections, as sweating is unavoidable in the warm and humid climate.
The community centre was only recently equipped with TV monitors in time for the football World Cup.
ACT member, the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone, managed to use the venue but for a more pragmatic reason: to hold a public awareness meeting about the risks of Ebola and the precautions needed to prevent its spread. The next day, the government prohibited all public gatherings and closed schools in the district.
The loss of the football coverage is a minor inconvenience in an emergency that has cost 370 people their lives, according to latest World Health Organisation figures on the haemorrhagic fever released this week. Since the outbreak was identified in January, it has killed 270 people Guinea, 66 in Sierra Leone and 34 in Liberia.
ACT Alliance is responding to the crisis in both Liberia and Sierra Leone by raising awareness of the disease and methods of avoiding contraction.
When health ministry officials in Monrovia, Liberia, announced on June 13 four confirmed cases in Monrovia, the news created fear in the city. Stigma associated with the disease, coupled with the cultural care practices for nursing the sick and burying the dead, have become the main challenge in controlling the spread of the virus. Infected people are afraid to report contraction and will even flee their area of infection to seek medical attention in the city or a neighbouring country.
Two hospitals belonging to the Lutheran church in Lofa, Liberia – easily accessed from Guinea – are attractive to sufferers of the disease as they offer free treatment. The hospitals have not treated Ebola cases but have treated cases of Lassa fever, an acute viral illness that occurs in west Africa and which manifests in the same manner as Ebola.
HIV anti-retroviral drugs are used to treat Lassa fever. ACT members in Liberia wish to increase the response to create more awareness and to include emergency isolation units for the Lutheran hospitals for the next six months.