Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Sorry State of Sierra Leone

41 Million Leones 3 Day
Feeding 
Over the past few weeks,  I have received various queries from numerous readers of the Segbwema Blog regarding a lull in the frequency of posts. I want to assure all our readers that we are following developments in our homeland Sierra Leone with a keen interest and keeping up to date with all developments, positive and negative.
Sierra Leone Delegation to
A Women's Conference 

I have taken some time out for personal  professional development and to also lend a hand to various nonprofit organizations engaged in the Ebola eradication effort. Many private individuals and groups are doing noble things in terms of mobilizing equipment and food supplies, raising awareness and support and preparing for the immediate post Ebola era in Sierra Leone, when a lot of individual and institutional help would be needed.

Here in Minnesota, Sierra Leone organizations like OneVillage Partners,  Rural Health Care Initiative, and the Sierra Leone Community in Minnesota  (SLCM) have been at the forefront of advocacy and resource mobilization for Sierra Leone. They will be vital in the post Ebola period.

However,  reports of all the shenanigans back home in Sierra Leone and various credible accounts of how Ebola funds have been squandered by public officials even in the midst of this terrible tragedy are extremely discouraging to say the least.

For all organizations going to Sierra Leone to help rehabilitate Ebola stricken communities, my fervent advice is to go straight to the communities and avoid all government institutions, unless there is an absolute need to engage some government institutions. The current government of Ernest Bai Koroma has lost all credibility both domestically and internationally. It is only the lack of sophistication of a largely illiterate and gullible population that is even making people think they have a government. What Sierra Leone has is a criminal syndicate masquerading as a government.
In the midst of a crisis like the current Ebola outbreak , any serious government would have been preoccupied with mobilizing domestic resources and international support to find a speedy solution. In Sierra Leone however,  Ebola represented a unique opportunity for easy pickings and the vultures were ready and waiting.
His Excellency Dr. Bai
Koroma

While President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia was on the international airwaves 24/7 appealing to the international community to intervene in her country,  President Koroma converted State House to an Ebola donation collection center where people went and paid checks that are now largely unaccounted for. Authorities are saying many of the checks bounced,  but the donors are pushing back showing bank statements of checks having been cashed. It is a complete mess, even as people continue to suffer and die needlessly.

Millions of Leones spent on food distribution where individuals only received single plates of cooked rice. Purchases and payments for which there were no receipts, and so on. It was an Ebola bonanza and many people close to the powers that be are now newly created Ebola millionaires.
The Lost Generation 

While authorities in Guinea turned over the Ebola effort to qualified public health officials,  President Koroma set up a system of political patronage putting the country's Defense Minister with no health qualification and Steven Gaojia another political ally with no health care qualification in charge of the national Ebola response, while qualified Sierra Leoneans who are infectious disease and medical experts were sidelined simply because they were not political allies of either President. The Ebola strategy has largely been a guessing game even as thousands have died for lack of a cohesive strategy.

By politicizing every aspect of Sierra Leone life and governing through an elaborate system of patronage, nepotism and propaganda, the Ernest Koroma  government has reversed nearly all the gains made in the immediate post war period. Sierra Leone today is a country with an Agenda for Prosperity that has become an Agenda for Corruption.

However, the average Sierra Leonean has been conditioned through decades of false political promises to accept the status quo and believe that the only thing that matters in life is to sleep on a full stomach. The level of official incompetence and neglect in Sierra Leone is almost criminal, but most people have such low expectations that only a seismic shift will wake the ordinary Sierra Leonean from the blissful oblivion to which he is condemned. Unfortunately the  Parliament which is suppose to provide checks and balances is largely full of people happy with the status quo, because for them,  things have never been better.

Today in Sierra Leone, it is every man for himself with government slowly becoming the country's main burden. A modern tragedy.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

No 2015 New Year Resolutions


This year I will skip making New Year resolutions.
It's a great idea. Every year, before leaping into the next, you make a list of the things you want to achieve, those within your capacity, and devote some time in the coming year to achieving them. Sometimes you may get carried away and make unrealistic resolutions.

Your new year's resolution can be your own personal secret. A vice or bad habit that you have finally decided to let go; to cut down on booze, to quit smoking,  to get off Facebook. Sometimes it is a secret effort to get a promotion you have been eyeing for a long time. It can be your own personal secret Agenda for Prosperity.

Your new year's resolution can be shared with friends. A desire to lose 15 pounds before the end of the year, a desire to lose the beer gut and replace it with well toned magazine like abdominal muscles that will be the envy of your ageing friends. It could be a promise to finally start tackling the mountain of credit card debt that has prevented you from being approved for even a pin, let alone a car.

Some people really do stick to their new year resolutions, a few. Many try hard for the first two weeks in the year, but old habits die hard. By the third week things always come up just as they are ready to go to the gym. By the sixth week, they are already planning another new year's resolution for the next year. The current year's resolution a broken dream. A mountain that was just too steep to climb.

The people who benefit a lot from New Year’s resolutions are the gym owners. That is the time they hire one or two more personal trainers, to push the ambitious 400 pound fellow who envisions himself another Tyrese Gibson by the end of the year, but still drives to the all you can eat Chinese buffet as soon as he steps out of the gym. The personal trainer will take one look at him and think "Meh, it's not going to happen," but he won't say it loud. He won't want to lose a customer.

Personal Trainers are effective salesmen for unrealistic dreams. They will take one look at you and know that there is no way on earth you will lose that weight even if you are given two years.  But they will still edge you on, pushing you for the next two months, watching you huff and puff as if your life depended on it. They will do so gently at first. When you have used up all your nonrefundable fees,  they will then work you over as if they were breaking in a horse.  You start loving them, you end up hating them, and finally you quit.

Sometimes your New Year's resolution is to pay down your credit card debts. Initially you decide to make a huge sacrifice and make huge biweekly payments. Soon you bring your card payment way down and you feel great about it. But the guys at Visa and Mastercard are as determined as you are to pull you in the opposite direction. Their job is to keep you in debt and they are good at it. Without debt they will go out of business, as simple as that.

So when you have just fifty dollars left on your five hundred dollars credit card and have left it that way for three months, you receive the inevitable letter thanking you for being such a loyal customer and jerking up your 500 hundred dollar credit limit to two thousand dollars. Suddenly you can now buy that curved 4K 65 inch  Samsung TV that is on sale at Best Buy. You rush over there and they throw in free shipping with the bargain. You are now four times more in debt than when you made the new year's resolution. Who is the sucker now?

No, this year, I won't make any new year's resolution. I have looked at the things in my life that are worth changing and will work on them without any fanfare or promises. If I succeed it's fine, if I don't I tried. From now on it is going to be continuous resolutions, dictated more by circumstances and less by Santa Claus.

The only thing I ask for in this new year is for this dreadful Ebola to go away from Sierra Leone and West Africa.

This week our President in Sierra Leone declared seven days of fasting. When your President becomes your pastor, be rest assured that you are in deep trouble. In our areas of rural Sierra Leone, you don't have to even declare fasting. Most families having been under quarantine for the better part of 7 months hardly having any food to eat. So asking them to fast is just formalizing their already miserable situation. I just hope the President will not send soldiers into homes for fast enforcement. One never knows what is going through the mind of Koroma these days.

The only good news coming out of Sierra Leone is that the number of new Ebola cases has gone down drastically. The shock of the disease finally got to our people and they are no longer seeing it as a conspiracy, thankfully. Many are now taking appropriate precautions. We urge the international community to not let down on this virus until the last case is reported. Ebola is a wake up call to the world that we are now so interconnected that we just cannot turn away from the plight of others any longer.

So while we wait, pray, hope and take appropriate precautions,  this year I will skip the resolutions.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Goat that did not Eat the Potato Leaves

Segbwema 
It was a hot day in Segbwema. The sun's heat radiated in visible waves off the old asphalt. Most of the grass was dead, a crumpled mess, disintegrating into fine dust.

It was the end of the dry season and even the town's major stream, the river Nyeya, a tributary of the great Maleh river was drying up, the brown water down to the base of the stream bed, flowing sluggishly like a lazy python that had just swallowed a prized catch, meandering over the ancient rocks that formed the foundation on which the bridge dividing Segbwema into Taiama and Kono town was built.

The primary school pupils no longer went to MM Kallon after school to swim. MM Kallon,  the deepest part of of the river Nyeya was dry, and the hard rocks were visible on the river's bed. There was no place to swim.

Kinie Sipo Kpandeyengay was looking for his old Goat. He was not originally from Segbwema. Some said he was from Blama, a small dusty town off the main Bo-Kenema highway. It was said that in Blama, the small small boys had very little respect for their elders. In Blama, it was rumored, even the cockroaches were so proud that the sparrows lived in awe of them. The cockroaches in Blama were prouder than the birds.

Others said Kinie Sipo came from Nyandehun Mababway, a small village in Kailahan of people who thought they were the most educated.  In Nyandehun, even the primary school pupils thought they were the most educated in the world. The only book that was compulsory in Class 7, was the Oxford English Dictionary. Any pupil finishing class 7 who had not memorized all the words in the Oxford dictionary up to letter Q, was disowned by the town's inhabitants for bringing shame and disrepute upon them. This was not even Giehun Luawa.

Still, some other people said that Kinie Sipo came from Bo town, that sprawling southern metropolis where the great Bo School was located. Where Jesus Christ told the Catholic fathers to build his college. Where the great engineers from the south first learnt to do integration and differentiation.
Important people came from Bo, ambitious people, honorable people. Almost everybody who grew up in Bo was a chief. There were so many chiefs in Bo that even the town crier and town drummer were chiefs. The rest wanted to be Presidents. Since Independence,  in every multiparty election in Sierra Leone, there would be a candidate who was either from Bo or went to school in Bo. It just had to happen.

The oldest woman in Bo said it was the water that ran under the town. Whoever drank from Bo's water wells would feel important until the day they died, even those who were just smart, but not very clever. The old woman was right. In Bo, even the poor people were important.  Bo has the greatest number of important poor people in all of Sierra Leone. They were good people,  fine people, and their daughters were beautiful.

The old goat did not care where Kinie Sipo came from, it was a goat,  and did not care about such things. All the goat cared about was grass. But this year the rains had been late to come and the grass had all dried up in Segbwema. The orange pills strewn carelessly on the streets were so hard and tough that it was better to chew on paper.

Kinie Sipo's goat was an old animal, it did not have the teeth to chew anything strong. But it was also a wise goat, and stayed away from plastic. Plastic was soft, but it had killed many sheep, in and around Segbwema.

While Kinie Sipo looked for his goat, the old goat was running towards Holy Ghost, the Catholic secondary school near  the old railroad to Kenema. The goat had smelt some fresh, succulent, mouthwatering potato leaves. The smell drifted slowly the air from the direction of Principal Ngombu's house. The goat was a wise goat. It had seen principal Ngombu's old Volkswagen drive by. It would never forget that Volkswagen, the vehicle had almost killed the old goat two weeks ago. Now, whenever it heard the loud sound of the trusty old engine,  it ran like there was no tomorrow. Whoever said goats could not run, has never been to Segbwema. Kinie Sipo's goat was old, but it could still run.

The goat came to the garden plot containing the fresh, succulent, mouthwatering potato leaves. The leaves stretched for as long as the eyes could see. Alas, there was a fence surrounding the potato leaves all around the garden plot. The goat ran along the length of the potato plot, but the fence was all around. There was not even a single opening to squeeze in. The old goat hated these Holy Ghost students. How could they do this, build a fence and not leave even one tiny hole?

The old goat tried to jump the fence. On the first try, it went up halfway. It became convinced it could do it. On the second try it fell so hard that it's stomach sounded like a loud drum on the tough concrete. But it would not give up. It rested for three minutes, goat time, and decided to try again.

This time it went  backwards a considerable distance and the came forward with full speed before it made the leap. The old goat almost cleared the fence, but it was just an inch too high and the goat fell all the way down. Unfortunately this time, it landed on its testicles. The pain was so intense that tears streamed down the sides of the goat's face. It was a marvel, seeing a goat cry. But nobody saw the goat cry, nobody was around.

The goat limped back home, hungrier than ever.

"Maybe," the goat thought, " those potato leaves were just fresh, but were not even sweet."

"Maybe," the goat continued to think, "not only were they not sweet,  they could have even been poisonous. They must be poisonous,  otherwise why did they have to build a fence so high? I am lucky I did not even eat those potato leaves. They surely were poisonous."

Kinie Sipo's old goat limped home, the pain in its testicles still intense. It was still very hungry, but also very happy that it did not eat those poisonous potato leaves that grew on the fenced garden plot in Holy Ghost.

By the time the goat got home,  it was sure that it had made the right decision. Thank God it had not eaten those potato leaves. It would surely have been dead by now!

Sheku Sheriff -An adaptation of an old tale.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving: Alas My Turkey Friend

Thanksgiving 
Thanksgiving is here. Tomorrow, millions of Americans will go to their family homes to eat, drink and feast together, happy to be alive, grateful for another year and thankful for being part of this great nation of immigrants.

Alas, the joy of thanksgiving will not extend to those poor big neighborly birds, the Turkeys. Tomorrow at least 45 million of these poor birds will be stuffed, polished and baked, ready for the table of even the laziest cooks in the land.

Benjamin Franklin once called these great birds the "true American originals." Tomorrow, many will end their lives journey on the table of some family already to full from dinner rolls to even eat a full leg. Most of these majestic critters will end up in the neighborhood dumpster or head for the family fridge, to adorn the insides of cold sandwiches for the rest of the month.

Even the Segbwema blogger has joined the turkey craze, but with the Sierra Leone taste, we have found truly patentable ways to ensure that the large bird is well seasoned. I love my brothers in PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. But tomorrow I will crave their indulgence,  while I bite deep into the leg of my well seasoned turkey. It is just once a year, so PETA, consider this a minor infringement and give me a ticket.

You see in Segbwema where I was born and bred, there was no turkey. We had our lean free range chickens on Ramadan and Christmas day, or when our elders came to visit us from our capital Freetown. 

So PETA, it is not that I don't care for Turkeys,  I am just listening to my maker who gave me dominion over the fowls of the air and the fish in the sea. On this day I would rather listen to my maker than my vegetarian brother. Who said plants don't have a life too.

Happy thanksgiving in advance to all friends and relatives. I hope you get the Black Friday item of your choice, I will wait for cyber Monday and see if I can qualify for free shipping.
Enjoy this great day.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

President Obama Provides Deportation Relief to Immigrant Families

Immigration Speech
In a prime time address tonight, US President Barack Obama announced an executive decision that would delay deportation of millions of illegal immigrants who have stayed in the country for more than 5 years, have not engaged in any illegal activity and have children who are US citizens or permanent residents.

Contrary to rumors of a unilateral action to change the immigration status of illegal immigrants in the country, the order just provides deportation relief to millions of families who are in the country working underground, giving congress the chance to work on comprehensive immigration reform.

This measure announced today by the President was delayed due to appeals by endangered Southern Democratic politicians in the last election, an act many blame for the failure of many of the democratic faithful to turn up at the polls on November 4th.

The relief measure will be very popular in the immigrant community, but will of course not be welcome by Republicans and their Tea Party supporters, who view the last election as a shift away from the liberal immigration policies of the democrats to their own immigration principle of criminalize and deport.

Republicans however need to be very careful how they respond to this decision, as the demographics of this country are changing very rapidly. The results of the last midterm election reflect primarily one thing; the democratic base stayed away from the polls. This is seen in the extremely low turnout, as on that night many who turned up were those angry with the President. If Republicans mistake this November election for a shift towards their hard line policies,  they will lose the Presidency again in 2016 in grand fashion. They really need to tread carefully on this move by the President tonight.

The Transcript of the Speech is provided below:

My fellow Americans, tonight, I’d like to talk with you about immigration.

For more than 200 years, our tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world has given us a tremendous advantage over other nations. It’s kept us youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial. It has shaped our character as a people with limitless possibilities – people not trapped by our past, but able to remake ourselves as we choose.

But today, our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it.
Families who enter our country the right way and play by the rules watch others flout the rules. Business owners who offer their workers good wages and benefits see the competition exploit undocumented immigrants by paying them far less. All of us take offense to anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America without taking on the responsibilities of living in America. And undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities see little option but to remain in the shadows, or risk their families being torn apart.
It’s been this way for decades. And for decades, we haven’t done much about it.

When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system. And I began by doing what I could to secure our borders. Today, we have more agents and technology deployed to secure our southern border than at any time in our history. And over the past six years, illegal border crossings have been cut by more than half. Although this summer, there was a brief spike in unaccompanied children being apprehended at our border, the number of such children is now actually lower than it’s been in nearly two years. Overall, the number of people trying to cross our border illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s. Those are the facts.

Meanwhile, I worked with Congress on a comprehensive fix, and last year, 68 Democrats, Republicans, and Independents came together to pass a bipartisan bill in the Senate. It wasn’t perfect. It was a compromise, but it reflected common sense. It would have doubled the number of border patrol agents, while giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship if they paid a fine, started paying their taxes, and went to the back of the line. And independent experts said that it would help grow our economy and shrink our deficits.

Had the House of Representatives allowed that kind of a bill a simple yes-or-no vote, it would have passed with support from both parties, and today it would be the law. But for a year and a half now, Republican leaders in the House have refused to allow that simple vote.

Now, I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common sense law. But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as President – the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican Presidents before me – that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just.

Tonight, I am announcing those actions.

First, we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over.

Second, I will make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed.
Third, we’ll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country.

I want to say more about this third issue, because it generates the most passion and controversy. Even as we are a nation of immigrants, we are also a nation of laws. Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable – especially those who may be dangerous. That’s why, over the past six years, deportations of criminals are up 80 percent. And that’s why we’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mother who’s working hard to provide for her kids. We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day.

But even as we focus on deporting criminals, the fact is, millions of immigrants – in every state, of every race and nationality – will still live here illegally. And let’s be honest – tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn’t being straight with you. It’s also not who we are as Americans. After all, most of these immigrants have been here a long time. They work hard, often in tough, low-paying jobs. They support their families. They worship at our churches. Many of their kids are American-born or spent most of their lives here, and their hopes, dreams, and patriotism are just like ours.

As my predecessor, President Bush, once put it: “They are a part of American life.”
Now here’s the thing: we expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect that those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. So we’re going to offer the following deal: If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes – you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.

That’s what this deal is. Now let’s be clear about what it isn’t. This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently. It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive – only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you.

I know some of the critics of this action call it amnesty. Well, it’s not. Amnesty is the immigration system we have today – millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time.

That’s the real amnesty – leaving this broken system the way it is. Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I’m describing is accountability – a commonsense, middle ground approach: If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. If you’re a criminal, you’ll be deported. If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up.

The actions I’m taking are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican President and every single Democratic President for the past half century. And to those Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill. I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution. And the day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary. Meanwhile, don’t let a disagreement over a single issue be a deal breaker on every issue. That’s not how our democracy works, and Congress certainly shouldn’t shut down our government again just because we disagree on this. Americans are tired of gridlock. What our country needs from us right now is a common purpose – a higher purpose.

Most Americans support the types of reforms I’ve talked about tonight. But I understand the disagreements held by many of you at home. Millions of us, myself included, go back generations in this country, with ancestors who put in the painstaking work to become citizens. So we don’t like the notion that anyone might get a free pass to American citizenship. I know that some worry immigration will change the very fabric of who we are, or take our jobs, or stick it to middle-class families at a time when they already feel like they’ve gotten the raw end of the deal for over a decade. I hear these concerns. But that’s not what these steps would do. Our history and the facts show that immigrants are a net plus for our economy and our society. And I believe it’s important that all of us have this debate without impugning each other’s character.

Because for all the back-and-forth of Washington, we have to remember that this debate is about something bigger. It’s about who we are as a country, and who we want to be for future generations.
Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility, and give their kids a better future?

Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms? Or are we a nation that values families, and works to keep them together?

Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities, only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us? Or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs, businesses, and industries right here in America?

That’s what this debate is all about. We need more than politics as usual when it comes to immigration; we need reasoned, thoughtful, compassionate debate that focuses on our hopes, not our fears.

I know the politics of this issue are tough. But let me tell you why I have come to feel so strongly about it. Over the past few years, I have seen the determination of immigrant fathers who worked two or three jobs, without taking a dime from the government, and at risk at any moment of losing it all, just to build a better life for their kids. I’ve seen the heartbreak and anxiety of children whose mothers might be taken away from them just because they didn’t have the right papers. I’ve seen the courage of students who, except for the circumstances of their birth, are as American as Malia or Sasha; students who bravely come out as undocumented in hopes they could make a difference in a country they love. These people – our neighbors, our classmates, our friends – they did not come here in search of a free ride or an easy life. They came to work, and study, and serve in our military, and above all, contribute to America’s success.

Tomorrow, I’ll travel to Las Vegas and meet with some of these students, including a young woman named Astrid Silva. Astrid was brought to America when she was four years old. Her only possessions were a cross, her doll, and the frilly dress she had on. When she started school, she didn’t speak any English. She caught up to the other kids by reading newspapers and watching PBS, and became a good student. Her father worked in landscaping. Her mother cleaned other people’s homes. They wouldn’t let Astrid apply to a technology magnet school for fear the paperwork would out her as an undocumented immigrant – so she applied behind their back and got in. Still, she mostly lived in the shadows – until her grandmother, who visited every year from Mexico, passed away, and she couldn’t travel to the funeral without risk of being found out and deported. It was around that time she decided to begin advocating for herself and others like her, and today, Astrid Silva is a college student working on her third degree.

Are we a nation that kicks out a striving, hopeful immigrant like Astrid – or are we a nation that finds a way to welcome her in?

Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once, too.

My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal – that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.

That’s the country our parents and grandparents and generations before them built for us. That’s the tradition we must uphold. That’s the legacy we must leave for those who are yet to come.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless this country we love.

Answering Some Questions on Ebola

An Ebola Virus
A good friend of mine pondered the mystery of Ebola on Facebook the other day. She asked why it was that some people were infected with the virus had people living with them, touching them, yet somehow these other people sometimes never got infected.

There is the popular case of the family that Thomas Eric Duncan, America's first Ebola patient lived with when he came to America.  Mr. Duncan came to America and lived with his host family consisting of his fiancée and her children for some time before he developed symptoms of Ebola. After he developed the Ebola symptoms, he was taken to the Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas and was prescribed antibiotics and sent back home. He again lived with his fiancée and family for approximately three days before he was rushed the second time to the emergency room, at which time his Ebola disease was well advanced. The copious diarrhea and vomiting had started while he was living with his host family and he had had ample time and opportunity to infect this family. It was learnt that he was even driven to the hospital by his fiancée.
Understanding Ebola

While in the hospital, Duncan's host family were kept isolated in the same apartment he had lived in for some days before they were eventually taken to another location and hazmat crews decontaminated their apartment. However, 21 days later, no member of the host family tested positive for Ebola while two nurses who worked with Duncan and were taking the recommended precautions got infected with the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). The question then is why do some people who in contact with Ebola get it while others don't? I will try to provide an answer based on my own understanding of infection and try not to be too technical.

The greatest medicine ever created was not created in some lab by scientists, but exists in the bodies of living organisms. In human beings we call it the immune system, the body's natural defense system to foreign particles. The immune system is so wonderful a defense system, it is truly amazing. It is the body's natural medicine to help defend it against disease.

The human body is like a town surrounded by enemies; bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, artificial contaminants, etc. All these enemies are surrounding the town ready to enter and do serious harm. The town (human body) however has a standing army (the immune system) which responds to any attack by external enemies. The wonderful thing is that the army ( the immune system ) knows all the inhabitants of the town and so would not normally attack them. But any time a foreign enemy enters the town, the army sends soldiers known as antibodies to attack them. If the first soldiers are not enough more soldiers are sent until the enemy is overpowered. That is the simple explanation , now let me explain it in greater detail.

The immune system is the body's natural defense to foreign organism such as bacteria, parasites, and viruses. These foreign particles once they enter the body are known as antigens. When an antigen is found in the body the immune system is alerted. The first thing it does is to try to and understand the nature of the foreign particle and send the right antibody to attack it. How this is done is complex and beyond the scope of the Segbwema Blog, but let us just say that antibodies specific to that antigen are produced and they rush and kill the antigen. You can learn more about the immune system by reading the following link  http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000821.htm

So when Ebola enters the body, antibodies are created to fight the virus. In some people the antibodies succeed in killing the virus and in others they don't. The people who do not mount sufficient immune response to the disease eventually end up dying, as there is yet no artificial medicine that can combine with the immune system to kill the virus. In other words there is still no cure.
Recognizing Ebola

Usually there are protein markers on bacteria and viruses that enable antibodies to find and attach to them and kill them. One of the reasons why Ebola is so deadly is that it has found  a way of shielding its protein markers from antibodies very effectively and therefore end up confusing the antibodies, allowing the virus to replicate rapidly and overpower the body by attacking human cells and destroying them.

There could be a lot of reasons why Eric Duncan's host family remained uninflected. It could be that they were exposed to him when his viral count was low, in the early stages of his infection. Their immune systems were therefore able to mount a rapid response to the virus before it could multiply rapidly in their systems. Living in America also could have helped, as your immune system is boosted by adequate nutrition. The two Presbyterian Hospital nurses were however exposed to Duncan when he was highly infectious, and this could be a reason why they were infected, as they were subjected to a high viral load before their bodies could mount an adequate response.

I really do not want to make this difficult to read, but just want to say that with every disease, everybody has a different response, as our immune systems are not the same. Some people have an immune system that could be compared to the U.S. Military; large and powerful. Some others have an immune system that could be compared to the Gambian army; small and insignificant, only used to scare the local  people.
Later Symptoms

People who have survived Ebola do so because their body has developed so much antibodies that they were able to kill all the Ebola cells. For the foreseeable future, these people will be resistant to Ebola. There are many others who would may actually have the virus in their system but have such a strong immune response that they may never get ill and hence never test positive.
That Food will Kill You

What is crucial is that at the moment the Ebola virus enters the body the immune system is strong enough to mount an effective response or the symptoms are caught at the early stage when there is still room for them to be managed successfully. When an infection is caught in the early stage, the person is kept hydrated and the fever managed while the body expels the virus and the immune system works to overcome it. Though Ebola is so mysterious, it is truly just like any other virus, just a bit more effective than most fending off antibodies.

(C) Sheku Sheriff
Hamline University

Monday, November 17, 2014

Labor of Love: Sierra Leoneans Mourn Dr. Martin Salia

Dr. Martin Salia (RIP)
When,as Sierra Leoneans in USA, we received news that our latest medical doctor infected with the Ebola virus, Dr. Martin Salia, was being flown into Nebraska, USA for treatment, we were besides ourselves with Joy. In a country with very few doctors per unit of the population, the fact that the first five doctors infected with the virus had all lost their lives to the disease after being treated inside the country, had made us think that Dr. Salia's treatment at a world class facility, famous for the treatment of the toughest infections, would lead to a better outcome. Over the weekend, we have been either glued to our TV screens or organizing prayer sessions for him,wishing and praying that he will miraculously pull through.

Unfortunately, it was with the saddest heart I learnt this morning that this wonderful example of human altruism has lost his life to the horrible Ebola plague. Many of us never had the chance to met this man, but we are devastated, as his life history, his faith and his sense of mission was so compelling.

On social media, some Sierra Leoneans are already conjuring up all sorts of conspiracy theories as to why Dr. Salia had to die when all those previously treated at this same facility pulled through. I think it is our responsibility to let our compatriots back home know that from the moment Dr. Salia got here in the United States, he received the best care that medical science could provide, but it was just a little bit too late.

When Dr. Salia came to the United States, his infection was already progressed to a critical level. He had lost his kidney function, was unable to walk and was even barely coherent. 
The Salia Family

He had been sick for some time in Sierra Leone, was misdiagnosed as Ebola negative, and it had taken a full week for another test prompted by his growing illness to reveal that the first test was erroneous, and he was actually afflicted with the Ebola Virus Disease.

Those people who have taken time to study the clinical course of the Ebola infection in considerable detail would know that the first week in which he was misdiagnosed was critical to his eventual recovery, as that was the time when aggressive moves would have been made to either introduce antibodies into his circulatory system through transfusion or the new experimental treatments, and he was kept steadily  rehydrated to counter the emesis and diarrhea that are the body's natural response and weapon used to eliminate or flush the virus from the system. Unfortunately for Dr. Salia, this crucial week was lost due to the false negative test given by one of the Ebola teams in the country and by the time his diagnosis was confirmed it was already a race against time. 

With the moment of his diagnosis and his eventual evacuation to the USA, Dr Salia was already in the advanced stage of the infection and the prayers of the whole country and the best medicine available was unable so save him, such is the virulence of this dreaded disease.

A deeply religious man with a missionary fervor for his work and mission in life, some of us will rate this young man high among the real heroes of this West African Ebola crisis. He left the comfort of his family and possibly a lucrative medical career in the USA to go back home and provide his services to a country and people that he believed needed him most. His own words are a testimony to his love for mankind, his people and his immense sense of altruism. Today as Sierra Leoneans all over the world mourn this brave soul, nobody feels his loss keener than his wife Isatu and their two children here in Maryland, USA

It was very heartbreaking today to hear his son talking about his dad's sacrifice and the faith that had led him pay the ultimate price, as a labor of love to his distressed people far away from the comfort of the United States of America. In a land of corrupt and selfish men, he was a gem of a human being.
Landing in USA

For Sierra Leoneans back, here in the USA, and throughout the global diaspora, this is another irreplaceable loss that will further continue to thaw away at the foundation of our country's fragile health care system. After this crisis we will have a long way to go to build up our country again and the effort of all will be required.

More importantly today however, we have learned that Dr. Salia's family is going to be saddled with the huge medical cost of his evacuation and treatment that will run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, as his wife had promised to take the responsibility for his treatment. As Sierra Leoneans here in the USA, I think we have the strength in numbers to come to the assistance of this family and help save them from a future of eventual bankruptcy and poverty. 

New Ebola Center in Sierra Leone
Our government back home can decide to help the family pay for his evacuation and treatment and not leave the burden on this family as soon as the CNN camera lights are turned away. If our government lacks the money, our foreign office can appeal to the generosity of the American people and Obama administration to help cover the cost of Dr. Salia's evacuation and treatment and write it off as part of the larger US war on Ebola. At the end of the day we are all tax payers here in America. If this fails, I believe it is our responsibility, all of us Sierra Leoneans here in the USA to raise funds through our associations and organizations to help relieve this family from this tremendous financial burden in the midst of their great personal tragedy. It is time that we as a people stand up and do what is right for a brother who gave up his comfort and life to care for the least among us.

This time instead of just heaping the blame on someone else let us all unite to help a family in distress. As the Almighty Lord said, "blessed is the hand that giveth, than the one that taketh. Rest In Perfect Peace Dr. Salia.

Sheku Sheriff, USA