Sierra Leone Ebola Lockdown Set to Begin, Despite Doubts

Sierra Leone authorities on Thursday are slated to commence a three-day lockdown in a bid to combat the Ebola outbreak, the Guardian reports, despite warnings from medical experts that the drastic and unprecedented move could actually make the outbreak worse.

Residents of this country, which is one of the West African nations hardest hit by the deadly disease outbreak, will be forced to remain in their homes at least from Thursday at midnight until Sunday. The government has reportedly recruited 21,000 volunteers—many of them with little knowledge of public health—to go from house to house to identify infections and “raise awareness” about the disease. Numerous soldiers and police have already been deployed to enforce local quarantines in the country.

But the international health organization Doctors Without Borders/ (MSF) has criticized the lockdown. “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,” said the group.

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Infectious disease expert David Heymann, who was part of the team that first identified the virus near the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ebola river in 1976, told the Guardian: “What you don’t want to do is actions that make the population lose more trust in you. Trying to cordon off an area isn’t rational unless you can enforce it 100 percent. It’s not dealing with the problem the way we know how to do it.”

What’s more, MSF added, “even when potential patients are identified, there will not be enough Ebola management centers to care for them. Without a place to take suspected cases—to screen and treat them—the approach cannot work.”