Sierra Leone appears to be showing signs of recovery from the Ebola outbreak -employment levels have almost returned to pre-outbreak rates, fewer people are skipping meals and nearly 80 percent of children have returned to school - but many families are still struggling to survive.
By John Sahr and Jennifer Lazuta. Photography by Aurelie Marrier d’Unienville in Freetown
As the country continues to fight the Ebola outbreak (which has infected more than 13,000 people and killed 3,932) more than two-thirds of households remain food insecure and nearly one-third of people say their wages and profits are much lower than before the outbreak. Malnutrition rates among children under five are also believed to remain high.
IRIN spoke with some Sierra Leoneans as they try to help their communities recover from the secondary impacts of the outbreak.
“Ebola has badly affected the village’s farming plans,” said Foday Kargbo, the deputy headman of the Mansantigie village, on the outskirts of Freetown, which was hard hit by curfews and quarantines.
Because of such restrictions, “people are afraid to move around or to farm,” he said.
As rice crops are more fragile than some other crops, rice-growing areas were particularly hard hit during the peak of the Ebola crisis.
At least 28 percent of traders surveyed by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network say that rice cultivation is still below average.
Even for those who were able to grow crops, there were a number of restrictions on exporting during the height of the Ebola outbreak and many of the local markets were shut down. Farmers had nowhere to sell their crops.
Hannah Kamanda, who normally sells gari, a byproduct of processed cassava, at the Waterloo Market, told IRIN:
“Before the Ebola, the gari business was good, but it’s much worse now,” she said. “Since I depend solely on the sale of gari, taking care of my family is extremely difficult.”
Kamanda has four children of her own, and took in her brother’s seven children after he died last year from Ebola:
"The normal three meals a day is a huge thing to provide sometimes,” Kamanda told IRIN. “During the peak of Ebola, we went many days with just one meal a day. Now, constant daily hunger has become a part of my family. We are praying the country is free of Ebola soon because right now business is not going well.”
Kamanda said she worries she will not be able to afford the next rent payment for her storehouse if business doesn’t pick up again soon.
Jeneba Mansaray, whose husband works as a fisherman at the Mabala Wharf in Freetown, had a similar story:
“Since the start of the Ebola, my husband has been unable to earn as he used to,” she said.
“We often run out of food. We had to beg our neighbours to help us…One of my children almost died of hunger because he was very weak after going for almost two weeks with just water and dried gari. It was unbearable.”
Under a nationwide Maternal and Child Health Week campaign, some 1.2 million children are benefitting from a range of interventions, including de-worming tablets, vitamin A supplements and vaccinations, while women of child-bearing age are being vaccinated against neonatal tetanus.
Malnutrition still remains a big challenge for the country. In 2014, the Sierra Leone National Nutrition Survey found that 28.6 percent of children under five were chronically malnourished. Nearly 13 percent were underweight.
At Freetown’s Cottage Hospital Malnutrition Ward, Lucy M.M. Coker, a nurse, told IRIN that the number of malnourished children in Freetown has increased since the Ebola outbreak.
Nurse Coker said it remains difficult to convince parents to bring their children for treatment, due to the fact that many people are still afraid to enter hospitals for fear of catching Ebola: “Ebola is not yet over,” she told IRIN. “So it’s still a huge fight to address malnutrition problems in our country.”