|Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden; Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs|
Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, the Honourable Minister of Social Welfare, Gender & Children’s Affairs has kicked off a test programme, which if successful, aims to physically locate and verify every single survivor of the deadly Ebola disease which ravaged Sierra Leone for a period of two years since 2014. This is in line with the priority of His Excellency the President for all Ebola survivors to become comfortably reintegrated in their communities with an accompanying free health care and psycho-social support from the State. The exercise started early this week with a pilot test operation conducted by hardworking social welfare ministry officials in faraway Nieni Chiefdom of Koinadugu district in northern Sierra Leone. The team was led by Mr. Saio Marah the newly appointed Presidential Delivery Team (PDT) Leader at the Ministry as well as Mr. Dennis Joseph Koroma, the newly appointed Officer-In-Charge of Project Shield/CPES programmes; specially designed programmes for Ebola Survivors.
According to the daily tally of discharges as reported by officials of Health Ministry and National Ebola Response Center (NERC), there should be a total of 4,052 Sierra Leoneans who survived Ebola disease around the country. Taking good care of all these Ebola Survivors is one of the most important priorities of His Excellency President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma who considers the survivors to be the heroes and heroines of a fight that the President personally led against the Ebola outbreak.
Further complicating matters is that according to the President of Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors (SLAES) Mr. Yusuf Kabba, of this number of names, only 647 (six hundred and forty seven) of them can be identified with their photographs. The others are just typed names.However, this newspaper is credibly informed that as at present, no institution in the country has a complete data of all the 4,052 Ebola Survivors. This makes it impossible for the vision of His Excellency to be well fulfilled. According to credible sources, the various available databases have only about 3,000 names of Ebola survivors.
This unfortunate state of affairs is said to be due to a series of mismanaged handling of the issue of Ebola Survivors in the past prior to Dr. Sylvia Blyden taking up office.
Experts have expressed that without a complete database of the over 4,000 survivors, it will not be far-fetched to envisage a scenario in the near future where the government would have provided support for the 3,000 available names of Ebola survivors, only for hundreds more to pop up around the country legitimately protesting that they have never been serviced or taken care of.
It is in a bid to resolve this issue that Dr. Sylvia Blyden is having her Ministry launch a well publicised exercise to bring out every Ebola Survivor to be registered, have their photographs & demographic details entered into an updated Database and their welfare be tracked. The plan, we have learnt, is that Hon. Dr. Sylvia Blyden who is herself an Information Technology expert, wants to efficiently use Information Technology to monitor and regularly track down the state of welfare of each and every Ebola Survivor as desired by President Koroma.
There is also the burning issue to ensure all Ebola survivors are issued with Identity Cards that cannot be easily replicated or faked. However, this can only happen for those survivors with photographs.
“With only 647 Ebola Survivors having photographs, it means only those ones can be issued with identity cards so we have to ensure the current database is upgraded and updated with photographs of every single Ebola survivor so they can all be issued with proper identity cards rather than just 647 of them,” a senior official of the Social Welfare ministry explained.
Mr. Saio Marah the new Presidential Delivery Team (PDT) Leader at the Ministry also spoke to Awareness Times this week upon his return from Nieni Chiefdom.
“In fulfilment of the promise made to the Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors by our dedicated and forward thinking Minister and in ensuring an effective Reintegration and Socialization of Survivors in all 14 Districts, she deployed a team of us alongside the president and other SLAES executives to travel to Nieni chiefdom at the beginning of this week,” Mr. Saio Marah confirmed adding the exercise was successful.
Mr. Saio Marah also informed that their verification of EVD survivors was not just limited to Nieni but also in a bid to locate a single Ebola survivor, they went to another faraway village in Kasunko chiefdom known as Kasanikoro village which was some 24 miles from Fadugu; traveling along bumpy roads and rough hilly terrains.
Nieni Chiefdom itself is one of the most far-to reach with the roughest terrain possible but that did not stop the team of ministry officials in ensuring they carried out the directives of their Minister that the ministry should locate the least survivor no matter the distance, language or societal setting.
Awareness Times correspondent who witnessed the events said that the feedback from the Ebola Survivors, traditional rulers and residents of Nieni and Kasunko was of very high appreciation for the government.
“We were never expecting such a consideration from the government especially during this rainy season when this area is cut off,” said Kulako Koroma, a survivor widow from Farekoro through a community translator.
According to Saio Marrah, the PDT Lead, in a bid to entrench reintegration, the Honourable Minister has directed that the Government of President Koroma will establish a furnished and functional EVD survivor’s office in faraway Nieni Chiefdom as that chiefdom alone had several dozens of Ebola Survivors.
“Dr. Blyden believes that at least for the next 12 months, the Ebola Survivors should have an office within access of their localities and so survivors in far-to-reach villages will still be best served. The team has suggested Kumala should be the town where such an office for SLAES should be rented,” Mr. Saio Marah informed.
In reaction to the announcement, several of the Ebola Survivors uncontrollably generated into spontaneous dancing and prayers of praises for President Koroma and the government. The jubilation, praises and dancing lasted for so long that it took the intervention of the elected Local Councilor to plead for the jubilation to end and for the meeting to get back on track.
Meanwhile, some of the challenges encountered by the team which has since returned to Freetown included Poor Road Networks, no mobile phone coverage so communication remains a huge challenge; survivors do not know their date of admission; No date of admission and discharge in most certificates especially those from MSF Bandajuma and finally, difficulty in tracking down survivors; many of whom are farmers.
However, despite the challenges, the known survivors in Nieni chiefdom were successfully traced apart from one Sheku Koroma who relocated from Kumala causing the team to traverse length and breath of over 11 villages searching for him but unsuccessfully. The other survivors have been tasked with continuing to search for Sheku Koroma.
Awareness Times is reliably informed that the Minister of Social Welfare Gender & Children’s Affairs Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, with financial and logistical support of the Government of Sierra Leone, the World Bank, Save The Children and the United Nations, is gearing up to take her search for Ebola Survivors to a nation-wide extent with its envisaged conclusion of every single survivor located, their details entered into a Database and the state of their individual welfare followed through henceforth.
Awareness Times, June 3, 2016, 17:14