CDC credited for its major contributions to Sierra Leone to stop the spread of Ebola

Interview with Chief Executive Officer, Sierra Leone National Emergency Response Coalition (NERC), Alfred Palo Conteh Major (Retired) Minister of Defense, May 14, 2015

Major Conteh is the Minister of Defense for the Government of Sierra Leone. He became the CEO of the National Ebola Response Centre (NERC) at the height of the epidemic, in November 2014, when the outbreak was “out of hand,” with about 500 cases being reported per week. As Major Conteh explains, Sierra Leone was missing many necessary health care system components. “We didn’t have treatment facilities, and we had only a handful of ambulances. There was only one laboratory in the eastern part of the country, and it was focused on Lassa fever.”He compared those “dark days” to the situation six months later when cases had declined sharply to only a few new cases being reported per week. In addition, by May 2015 there were 16 laboratories spread across Sierra Leone. According to Major Conteh, “We have 700 treatment beds, 2000-3000 holding beds, and about 200 ambulances.”

Major Conteh credited the support from CDC and other partners as critical for the changes and dramatic decreases in cases. “CDC provides the technical know-how to get on top of disease.” According to Major Conteh, the contributions by CDC were immense.

Recounting the early days of the epidemic, Major Conteh recalls relying heavily on CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Dr. Austin Demby, a personal longtime friend. “I was able to ask him for guidance about bringing the outbreak under control.”Major Conteh concluded that the advice Dr. Demby gave him was “valuable information about burials. He told me about burials, that 70% of Ebola infections come from burials.” According to Major Conteh, the advice Dr. Demby gave him required that Sierra Leone change the way families and communities conducted burials. When Major Conteh was put in charge of the NERC, he followed Dr. Demby’s advice to ensure that loved ones who died were buried within 24 hours. He said that advice made a “huge change,” and cases came down.

“I always turn to CDC for advice on technical decisions; they have helped us make the progress to where we are now in the response, from 500 new cases in a week, to now with only [a few cases per]…week” in May 2015. Major Conteh then pointed to the future: “CDC has left its mark on Sierra Leone during the Ebola response, and now we hope you will make an even bigger mark.” He explained that he had accompanied the Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma on a visit with President Obama where President Koroma had asked CDC to help his country build their national CDC so that Sierra Leone could “take charge of our own destiny” with the assistance of the new U.S. CDC Country Office in Sierra Leone.

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