As African governments struggle to contain the ongoing Ebola outbreak, Sierra Leone has announced it will enforce a three-day quarantine across the country to “deal with Ebola once and for all” as one government official put it.
Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, a presidential adviser on the country's Ebola task force, told The Guardian that the planned quarantine, between Sept. 19 and Sept. 21, will allow health workers to isolate new cases of the disease and keep it from spreading.
During those three days, 7,000 teams of health workers will go door to door to find people who are suffering from the disease but have not reported it to authorities. Spokesman for the Sierra Leone government, Abdulai Bayraytay, said the quarantine will be enforced by the military and police.
“It’s clear that we have pockets of resistance, in terms of denial,” Bayraytay told The New York Times. “People are still harboring loved ones at home.”
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He added that neighbors are calling local authorities and giving away information about people rumored to have contracted the disease.
“That gave us the clear indication that people are still harboring patients,” he said.
But some health organizations, like Doctors Without Borders, say that enforced quarantines and lockdowns will only drive those reluctant to report illnesses even deeper into hiding. Quarantines, some argue, are too punitive in nature and don’t work in encouraging people to seek help.
“It has been our experience that lockdowns and quarantines do not help control Ebola, as they end up driving people underground and jeopardizing the trust between people and health providers,” Doctors Without Borders said in a statement over the weekend.
The World Health Organization said Friday it estimates that Ebola has claimed just over 2,000 lives in West Africa during the recent outbreak. First reported in Guinea in March, the disease has spread to a number of West African countries. It has now infected people in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Senegal.
Ebola has killed 476 people in Sierra Leone, according to the Daily Mail. That is out of about 1,200 reported cases. While very deadly and with no known cure, the disease does not kill everyone it infects.
The World Health Organization says it could take many months to bring the current outbreak under control. In that time the organization says it expects to see as many as 20,000 cases reported.