COVID-19 Precautionary Measures & Poverty Dilemma
Approximately 60 percent of Sierra Leoneans live below the national poverty line. Remaining among the world’s poorest nations, ranking 180 out of 187 countries in the Human Development Index, more than 60 percent of Sierra Leoneans live on less than $1.25 a day.
Apparently, major cases of the poverty in Sierra Leone steams from the fact that the country has around 70 percent of youth unemployed or underemployed, has only a 41 percent adult literacy rate, remains heavily dependent on foreign aid, has a largely unchanged economic structure with low levels of productivity and major reliance on agriculture hold back further economic recovery; and was ravaged from 1991 to 2002 by civil war which caused the death of over 50,000 people.
Notwithstanding the contributing factors of the high spate of poverty in the country, one fundamental remedy to this of late has been government programmes to alleviate its burden on the citizens, especially so now that Sierra Leone has been so vulnerable to diseases outbreaks.
First and foremost, one would not forget in a passing the Country’s decade long Civil War which started in Bomaru and the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) Outbreak in 2014 which started the Sokoma and Kbomdu all in a poverty driven remote ends of Kailahun District in the Eastern Provinces of Sierra Leone.
Unlike the EVD which started in remote Kailahun District, a new global Pandemic has loomed in Sierra Leone. President Julius Maada Bio announced the index case on 31st March 2020 of the deadly Coronavirus (COVID-19). Eversince then the country has now recorded seven (7) confirmed cases.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). This disease started in China in December 2019, and since then has touched on all world’s nation, with Sierra Leone not being an exception.
Hence, the global health organization has recommended that one must wash hands regularly for 20 seconds, with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub; cover his nose and mouth with a disposable tissue or flexed elbow when he coughs or sneezes; must avoid close contact (1 meter or 3 feet) with people who are unwell; and must stay home and self-isolate from others in the household if you feel unwell. To achieve these precautionary measures, most nation’s in the world are in either complete or in partial lockdown.
Government here, has successfully completed a three (3) day nationwide lockdown, but yet, poverty in Sierra Leone has been at the heart of debate as the country struggles to roll out lasting measures.
Meanwhile, whilst the Medical and Dental Association of the country has recommended for government to institute a fourteen (14) days nationwide lockdown in completion of the incubation period of the COVID-19, several other rights activists have challenged this recommendation on the basis that Sierra Leoneans are extremely poor and it would be a very huge burden on the vulnerable poor who relies on hand-to-mouth survival should government choose that path. The WHO Chief has also warned country worldwide from shutting down their population without providing them life essentials. The question remains; how could government lockdown a population of over 7 million without providing them life saving essentials?
On the other side, the medics are of the opinion that sacrifice at this stage is very essential and that as Sierra Leoneans, we must all sacrifice for the general good. They believe that the virus is a strange one, and can only be combat if we stay at home longer. But this argument has been disputed on the basis that others feel that human dignity and sanctity is benchmark to good governance. The belief is that medics are elite rich and have everything to their doorstep. This means that in an event of a lockdown the medics are more to survive unlike the vulnerable illiterate poor masses.
Furthermore, with government issuing several new regulations, one will say that the law, as it stands is a result of continuous arguments between those who believe that 14 days lockdown is morally and practically justifiable and those who see it as violation of human rights and dignity. Thus, in Sierra Leone, this debate about the issues surrounding 14 days lockdown to curb the deadly COVID-19 has been so heated over the past days as it evidently has taught us the importance of curtaining poverty in the country. Whilst several nations, including here in Africa, have gone weeks into nationwide lockdowns, we in Sierra Leone cannot sacrifice 14 because our citizens are extremely poor.
Hence, the arguments between those who oppose 14 days lockdown, and those who support it, remain as dramatic and emotional as ever. The question now is to what extent can Sierra Leone follow a restrictive or a liberal path?