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Sierra Leone: Free of Ebola and Moving Forward

By Joseph Redling-Pace

Just one year ago the United States was faced with an outbreak of Ebola that caused a national panic. The hysteria was caused by a few cases, namely that of Dr. Martin Salia, a doctor who treated Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, and Dr. Craig Allen Spencer, who worked with Doctors Without Borders in Guinea. These two West African countries have a history of populations being ravaged by the deadly disease. Fortunately, the last few weeks have seen Sierra Leone’s fortune turn.

Over the past one and a half years, Sierra Leone has struggled with an outbreak of 14,000 cases of Ebola, which account for half of the cases documented in that time. Of the 14,000 people afflicted with Ebola, 4,000 died. On November 6th, 2015, the World Health Organization announced that Sierra Leone is finally Ebola free after eighteen months of struggling with the epidemic.Though Sierra Leone may have triumphed over this recent outbreak, it does not mean that the war to eradicate Ebola is over. In fact, the neighboring country of Guinea reported a new case involving a 25 year old woman in the same week as this announcement.

The quelling of the Ebola outbreak comes with hopes for a brighter and more prosperous future in Sierra Leone. Dr. Anders Nordstrom, the World Health Organization’s representative in Sierra Leone, has stated, “We now have a unique opportunity to support Sierra Leone to build a strong and resilient public health system ready to detect and respond to the next outbreak of [Ebola] or any other public health threat.” By developing a new public health care system, the World Health Organization hopes to not only prevent further serious outbreaks of Ebola, but also to treat the thousands of survivors who are still suffering from debilitating health problems due to the disease.

Furthermore, tech companies have demonstrated an interest in Sierra Leone that has only grown due to the recent Ebola-free declaration. Morris Marah is one of these innovators who has already done work to help ‘rebuild’ Sierra Leone after the Ebola crisis. He created a SMS, or texting service, called Sensi that sent out weekly updates and advice to the 500,000 citizens of Sierra Leone concerning the status of the disease. Now that Ebola has been eradicated in Sierra Leone, Marah has established the Sensi Technology Innovation Hub, which he says, “[Will] enable young businesses to get visibility, that will enable young programmers to innovate. . . to enable young entrepreneurs, young designers and inventors to have that makerspace that they can go to and get advice and get linked to mentors.”

Before the outbreak of Ebola, Sierra Leone’s economy was prospering, growing by 15.2% and 20.1% in 2012 and 2013. However, the outbreak was accompanied by a sharp decline in growth rate in 2014, going from 20.1% to 6%. The country’s economy must recover and continue to prosper as it did in 2013 in order to better the lives of the 50% of the population living below the international poverty line. Hopefully the tech industry will continue to recognize Sierra Leone’s potential and invest to create new startups and jobs that will, in turn, augment the country’s economic growth.

Image courtesy of thestatedaily.com