We wrote last week about the desperate fight to protect the last Ebola-free district in Sierra Leone. The story desribed how Koinadugu, in the country’s northern province, had managed to keep the virus at bay, even as it raged just outside its doors. Koinadugu’s status as the last of 14 districts to remain virus-free was a source of pride and hope.
Then, on Wednesday, Sierra Leonean government’s latest Ebola status report noted two new cases of the disease in Koinadugu.
The district appeared to have lost its coveted title, dealing a potentially devastating blow to that nation’s psychological battle against the dreaded virus.
But district officials immediately disputed the status of the two new cases.
Yes, two people died of Ebola in Koinadugu – but they had been smuggled into the district from the neighboring Kono district, said Momoh Konte, a businessman who has been organizing the fight against Ebola in his home district.
“We are working on correcting it,” Konte wrote to The Washington Post.
The numbers dispute highlights the difficulty of tracking new infections across West Africa and pinpointing their locations. The World Health Organization said Ebola is “rampant” in Sierra Leone, with more than 4,200 cases.
Konte — who, since June, has been travelling frequently from Washington, D.C., to the remote, mountainous district where he grew up – said the new cases had “illegally entered” from the Sandor Chiefdom in the Kono district.
Koinadugu has been under a tight quarantine for months. The goal was to limit the movement of people in order to prevent the spread of Ebola. The district has evicted at least one other Ebola-stricken person who slipped past checkpoints and border guards.
The district faces other challenges to its Ebola-free title, too. A Sierra Leonean newspaper, Global Times, reported Wednesday that recent deaths in a remote village in Koinadugu were being investigated as possibly Ebola-related. Konte pledged to ramp up measures to fight the disease. He said the district’s Ebola task force would burn down the homes of any Ebola victims and later help those families rebuild. The focus would be on preventing the disease from spreading.
Konte told the Washington Post he was not giving up.