When the Best Response to a Pandemic is… Don’t!

The Ebola crisis, also a pandemic because of cases in different countries, has hit the nation of Sierra Leone the hardest. National and international health teams have worked round the clock to contain the disease and prevent new outbreaks. Pharmaceuticals companies have ramped up efforts to develop new vaccines. Sierra Leone counts almost 12,000 people infected with the increases in both city and travelling populations major contributing factors. Recently, the Ebola response team in Sierra Leone tried a new tactic that was in stark contrast with previous measures. The tactic could be summed up in one word – Don’t!

The response team saw a risk of new outbreaks, even though there had been a significant reduction in the number of infections. So for three days, starting on Friday the 3rd of April, the six million people of Sierra Leone were instructed to stay at home. By not going out, not mingling and preventing contact, the idea is to further reduce Ebola infection, hopefully to the point where it will be eradicated. The only exceptions were for religious services, allowing Muslims to attend Friday prayers and Christians to attend Sunday church services.

This strategy to combat a pandemic is already known to many business and professional organisations. By physically separating groups of people, the chances of massive infection are reduced. But whereas work environments may lend themselves more naturally to the ‘command and control’ needed to make this work, national populations of millions of people present a different context. Initial reports from health workers were of mixed reactions. Some of Sierra Leone’s citizens were receptive to the tactic, others less so. The idea was for the curfew to be part of the final push to eliminate the scourge. Only the results seen afterwards will allow its effectiveness to be assessed.