Sierra Leone and the Congo are still recovering from the vicious spread of the Ebola virus four years on from the original outbreak.

Now, the latest outbreak of the disease has seen the country scramble to prevent its spread.

The 2014 crisis saw the formerly war-torn country of Sierra Leone tackle the new threat and has developed a strong responses to the disease.

In the early days of the outbreak however, Ebola was an untamed beast, and sparked political divisions between the opposition and incumbent party, and within the ruling party itself.

What impact did Ebola have on opposition political parties?

Ebola developed within the opposition heartland of Sierra Leone, where people saw the advent of the disease as an attack from the government.

Doctor Sinead Walsh was on the ground as Ireland’s Ambassador to Sierra Leone and Liberia during the 2014 outbreak, and shed some light on the situation.

Talking exclusively to she said: “Ebola started in an opposition area, a heartland opposition area of Kailahun.

“There were people in Kailahun who felt that this was the government trying to kill them.

Dr Walsh said that people in Sierra Leone, both the marginalised ‘Kissi’ people and the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party both believed they were under attack by this never before seen disease.

What impact did Ebola have on Sierra Leone’s leading party?

Sierra Leone’s leading All People’s Congress was in power as the disease broke out, which necessitated a united response.

As the disease reached Kenema, Dr Walsh said, the disease had a track directly to the largest city Freetown, where it could go nationwide.

However, there were cracks forming in the government which prevented a vital united front.

“We needed the ministry of health to be united,” Doctor Walsh said.

“There was a battle going on between the [health] minister and her people and the other people that wanted her out.”

This meant that the battle against Ebola became infinitely more complicated.

Moreover, the government was also having trouble accepting the crisis as a national problem, as Sierra Leone was attempting to rework its image in the international world.

Doctor Walsh says: “One of the things that is important to remember is that war ended in 2002, 12 years before Ebola hit.

“Its quite difficult for politicians to acknowledge the horrible disease when you’re trying to turn around the image of your country as not being conflict ridden.

“Before Ebola, things were starting to look differently and the country was trying to turn around its tarnished image.”

How was the government’s overall response to the Ebola crisis?

Doctor Walsh said that while the government response was initially shaky, it was later quite effective.

She says: “The government has gotten quite a lot of credit for sorting out the crisis, and they deserve that.

“The general perception in the country is that the government eventually did quite well.

“Yvonne Aki Sawyerr was born in Sierra Leone, but came back from working in the UK to volunteer on the Ebola response.”

Now voted in as Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone, Ms Sawyer received a presidential medal for her work on sanitisation during the crisis.

Doctor Walsh has collaborated with Doctor Oliver Johnson on ‘Getting to Zero: A Doctor and a Diplomat on the Ebola Frontline’, a book which digs deep into the crisis as it unfolded. 


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