Sierra Leone plans lockdown to fight Ebola

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Sierra Leone Plans Lockdown to Fight Ebola


Sierra Leone has announced drastic measures to try and curb the Ebola epidemic currently sweeping across West Africa: for three days, the government is placing the entire country in lockdown.

From Sept. 19-21, residents of Sierra Leone will be confined to their homes while medical teams sweep the country door-to-door, looking for Ebola patients hiding from medical authorities. The lockdown will be enforced by the military and the police. (Video via ENCA)

Sierra Leone hopes the lockdown will help stop the spread of Ebola, which has killed 491 people in the country, according to the latest WHO estimates. The WHO says over 2,000 people have died from the outbreak across the three hardest-hit countries - Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. (Video via BBC)

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Sierra Leone plans lockdown to fight Ebola
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A mother breastfeeds her child as they wait to see a doctor for a routine visit at the Kuntorloh Community Health Centre in the outskirts of Freetown on November 14, 2014. Ebola-hit Sierra Leone faces social and economic disaster as gains made since the country's ruinous civil war are wiped out by the epidemic, according to a major study. Damage to most sectors of the economy will see growth shrink from 20.1 percent last year to just five percent in 2014, the finance ministry and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) found. AFP PHOTO/ FRANCISCO LEONG (Photo credit should read FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images)
A baby naps on his mother's shoulder as they enter the vaccination room during a routine visit at the Kuntorloh Community Health Centre in the outskirts of Freetown on November 14, 2014. Ebola-hit Sierra Leone faces social and economic disaster as gains made since the country's ruinous civil war are wiped out by the epidemic, according to a major study. Damage to most sectors of the economy will see growth shrink from 20.1 percent last year to just five percent in 2014, the finance ministry and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) found. AFP PHOTO/ FRANCISCO LEONG (Photo credit should read FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images)
A disguised supporter of Ivory Coast's national football team holds a placard reading 'Stop Ebola', as he attends the 2015 African Cup of Nations qualifying football match between Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone on September 6, 2014 at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny stadium in Abidjan. AFP PHOTO / ISSOUF SANOGO (Photo credit should read ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)
Medical workers of the John Fitzgerald Kennedy hospital in Monrovia put on protective suits prior to carrying bodies of Ebola virus victims on September 6, 2014. The death toll from the Ebola epidemic has climbed above 2,000, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on September 5, as it voiced hopes a vaccine could be available in November. The deadly virus has claimed 2,097 lives out of 3,944 people infected in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, since emerging last December, the UN's health organ said after a two-day crisis meeting in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
A medical worker of the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Hospital in Monrovia disinfects a wall on September 6, 2014. The death toll from the Ebola epidemic has climbed above 2,000, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on September 5, as it voiced hopes a vaccine could be available in November. The deadly virus has claimed 2,097 lives out of 3,944 people infected in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, since emerging last December, the UN's health organ said after a two-day crisis meeting in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
Medical workers of the John Fitzgerald Kennedy hospital in Monrovia, responsible for transport of the bodies of Ebola virus victims, wear their protective suits as they walk past a sick woman waiting for assistance, on September 6, 2014. The death toll from the Ebola epidemic has climbed above 2,000, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on September 5, as it voiced hopes a vaccine could be available in November. The deadly virus has claimed 2,097 lives out of 3,944 people infected in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, since emerging last December, the UN's health organ said after a two-day crisis meeting in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
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Sierra Leone's information minister told CNN the lockdown will help identify all of the remaining Ebola patients who haven't come forward, as well as give medical authorities time to diagnose and treat people who have contracted the virus, but haven't shown symptoms of it yet.

"Locking down the country is like turning the whole country into an open laboratory. ... When they develop symptoms within three days, they will be identified and taken to treatment centers."

But the country's strategy is being criticized by some health organizations, including Doctors Without Borders. A spokesperson for the medical nonprofit told reporters, lockdowns and quarantines "end up driving people underground and jeopardising the trust between people and health providers. This leads to the concealment of potential cases and ends up spreading the disease further."

Health agencies have longed blamed mistrust of healthcare workers as a key factor in Ebola's rapid spread. One medical official told The New York Times educating communities about the risks of harboring Ebola patients is a much more effective strategy than lockdowns.

Liberia has also responded to the outbreak with lockdowns: in August, the Liberian government shut down a neighborhood in the capital Monrovia. That lockdown led to protests and clashes between residents and security forces.

The Ebola epidemic shows no signs of slowing down, and agencies around the world are racing to develop a treatment. Yesterday, the WHO greenlit the use of blood transfusions from Ebola survivors to combat the virus.

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