News National/International

Ebola Spurs A Full Public Lockdown In Sierra Leone


Sierra Leone will impose a three-day lockdown on all its citizens, as part of a plan to "deal with Ebola once and for all," the government says. The move is an effort to stop the disease that has killed over 2,000 people in five West African countries, according to World Health Organization data.

But the lockdown's effectiveness will depend on citizens buying in to the government's plan. From Nairobi, NPR's Gregory Warner reports:

"From Sept. 19 to 21, the people of Sierra Leone will have to remain in their homes so health workers can isolate new Ebola cases and prevent the disease from spreading. But the lockdown will have to be mostly voluntary. Sierra Leone does not have the police or military capacity to enforce it on 6 million citizens.

"The Ebola virus has exposed a lack of trust between some West Africans and their governments. Liberia's short-lived effort to quarantine its largest slum led to riots and unsanitary conditions that likely increased infections.

"The virus spreads only through bodily fluids. But without better public health information campaigns - and people willing to believe those messages - the epidemic will be harder to stop."

Efforts to quarantine those with the disease have led to other complications, as well, putting a crimp in the flow of food and other commodities. As a Sierra Leone news site notes, a U.N. official is warning that food hoarding and price gouging are now hitting areas where Ebola quarantines are in place.

The World Health Organization just completed a meeting in which medical experts discussed how to get better treatments to people who need them. The plans include "fast-tracking" experimental drugs and potential vaccines.

The WHO is hoping that an Ebola vaccine might be available as soon as November, if initial safety studies go well," NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reports. "In terms of possible therapies, the WHO says a priority is so-called 'convalescent serum' — using the blood of people who have survived Ebola as a treatment for people stricken with the disease. Other experimental therapies, such as the serum known as ZMapp, could be tested in Ebola treatment centers."

Because supplies would be limited, especially at the earliest stages of development, the treatments would first be given to "health care workers who treat patients and others at high risk of the disease," Nell says.