Sierra Leone Into Massive Ebola Isolation Effort

Saturday, September 20, 2014
By Paul Martin

Sep 20, 2014

Some residents ran from their homes in Sierra Leone to avoid being trapped during a three-day lockdown to contain the Ebola outbreak, a health worker said Saturday, a minor setback on the second day of a massive effort to confine 6 million people to their homes.

Nearly 30,000 volunteers and health care workers fanned out across the country on Friday and Saturday to distribute soap and information on how to prevent Ebola, which the World Health Organization says has killed more than 560 people in Sierra Leone and more than 2,600 in the region. The outreach campaign coincided with the sweeping three-day lockdown so that volunteers could conduct house-to-house searches to identify sick people reluctant or unable to seek treatment for Ebola.

Marathon runner Idrissa Kargbo, 23, is back in Sierra Leone to help the volunteers.

As a boy, Kargbo sprinted through the villages of Sierra Leone on errands for his grandmother and later as a coffee courier. Now his times have qualified him for races on three continents.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Saturday, Kargbo said the Freetown residents he’d visited were grateful for whatever information they could get.

“Some people are still denying, but now when you go to almost any house they say, ‘Come inside, come and teach us what we need to do to prevent,'” Kargbo said. “Nobody is annoyed by us.”

For Kargbo, spreading Ebola awareness was a welcome break from idleness after the outbreak cut off all opportunities for him to train and compete. He had been planning to run the Liberia Marathon in August, having placed second in the race last year, but it was postponed until at least early 2015 as the outbreak in that country spiraled out of control.

The stadium where he normally trains in Freetown has also been closed, he said, and his work as a coffee courier was put on hold because most of the clients — international NGO workers — have fled the country.

“Most of those NGO people are going out,” Kargbo said. “Right now, I don’t have the chance to go anywhere. I don’t have the chance to train.”

Sierra Leone’s government is clearly hoping the lockdown will help turn the tide against the disease. In a speech before it began, President Ernest Bai Koroma said “the survival and dignity of each and every Sierra Leonean” was at stake.

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