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Published on: 14/08/2014

“I did not find a way to leave,” Peter says on the phone. This morning he tried to arrange to travel to Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, but without result.

Peter Abdulai is stuck in Kenema district, one of the districts in Sierra Leone where Ebola continuous to do damage. He is waiting for permission to go to Freetown where he works as communication and campaign assistant for WaterAid Sierra Leone. Originally from Kenema, he traveled to the Eastern Province last Wednesday night for the funeral of his aunt, when the government closed the roads in an effort to stop the Ebola virus from further spreading.  

“Nobody comes or leaves without proper authorization,” Peter says. “People here are following their daily routine, but with more caution.” The office where he works is closed for a small period out of precaution.

Ebola is spreading fast and continues to plague West Africa. More than 1,000 people have died since the outbreak and nearly 1,850 have been infected - a number rising every day, reports the World Health Organization. The outbreak is centered in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, but has spread to other countries in recent months as well.

One of the countries hardest hit by the outbreak is Sierra Leone, with 276 confirmed death and 656 reported cases of infection. Kenema and Kailahun are the districts hardest hit.  

According to Peter, there is enough information around now about the prevention of Ebola. “On the street you see people going around with megaphones to give information. Every household takes preventive measures. The misconceptions have changed, people accept the reality now about the virus.”

In Sierra Leone, IRC is a partner in the Sector Learning Initiative – a partnership initiated by the Ministry of Water Resources of Sierra Leone and consists of different members from the water, sanitation and hygiene sector, dedicated to support learning to improve water, sanitation and hygiene and water resource management.

Carmen da Silva Wells, IRC programme officer working in hygiene promotion and behaviour change, recently visited Freetown as part of the initiative:  “We’ve learned from our work in hygiene behaviour change that simply telling people what to do does not automatically lead to change. But, in order for people to take preventive measures, such as handwashing, they need to know what to do and have access to soap and water.”

Clean drinking water, safe hygiene and sanitation are of great importance. In the case of Ebola, the virus spreads through direct contact or indirectly through contact with materials that have been contaminated with infected bodily fluids, with a case fatality rate of up to 90%. Washing hands with soap and water, keeping a clean environment, use protective gear and education about Ebola are of high importance in fighting the virus. Peter: “Safe hygiene and ensuring that hygiene procedures are followed play a role in preventing the spread of the disease.”

Every public health disease-prevention programme begins with the most basic hygienic practice: handwashing. The World Health Organization recommends regularly washing your hands with soap after visiting or taking care of Ebola patients, along with several other measures to help prevent the spread of Ebola virus.

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