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Sierra Leone News: Awoko Tok-tok: Ebola: a radical re-engineering of the security architecture

There is no gainsaying that the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) is on us and raging.
However whilst western nations have called in their armies to take the lead in the response, our army is still quarantined in their barracks playing only a nominal support role.
Since the onset of this deadly onslaught we have called for the military to take the lead. Why? Because for us the examples abound that military forces are created just for such emergencies.
When earthquakes and natural disasters happen around the world, the first line of response comes from the military. In Asia it is the military, which leads. In India presently it is the military leading the effort for thousands cut off by the floods.
It is the military, which leads when earthquakes occur - moving with heavy earth moving equipment digging out people trapped beneath rubbles, as is the case in China and other natural hurricane and earthquake regions.
This has even now been demonstrated to us by both the British and US governments.
In Liberia the US Army leads in flying in logistical materials and in building a treatment center. In Sierra Leone here the British have sent in their Army Engineers and medics to build and operate a 62 bed treatment facility, and most importantly, it will be done in 8 weeks.
In China too the most significant response which is the TS-50 Ebola vaccine was developed by their military research facility.
One may be quick to say that these are advanced economies with vast resources at their disposal - Yes that may be true but we have to start somewhere, which means that we must emulate what those with enough resources are doing and try to adapt or improvise in areas where we fall short.
Ghana is not too far from us, but the best hospital in Ghana is not Korle-bu but the 38 Military Hospital. Can we put our 34 Military hospital in that same category? Yet the head of the military hospital here is the closest specialist in virology that we can have to the late Dr Khan.
The question now we need to ask is why is our government shying away from using the military to take the lead role?
In the supplementary budget just before Ebola took over the headlines the Minister of Finance had committed huge resources for some 80 trucks for the Army. Where are those vehicles and why are they not being used to fill in the huge logistical gap left bare by the absence of ambulances? Do we have to always go begging whilst people are dying without using what we have?
Why is it that the military has not been deployed to set up tents and erect temporary treatment centers or field hospitals … Is that not what they are trained to do during war? Where are the military tents? Are they only to be rented out for funerals?
It is our view that the military must now take the lead and become the frontline soldiers in this war against Ebola. We understand that after the rebel war, the security architecture was redesigned such that the Police take primacy in all things and the Military are supposed to play second fiddle.
While this design may have resulted out of the mistrust for the Army in the wake of the monumental mutiny against a democratically elected government, we cannot continue to live in the past.
That is why we urge that a radical re-designing of the security architecture must take place now to place the military on their correct pedestal which is to be the frontline responders in any national disaster whether it is the King Jimmy bridge collapsing, or water overflowing and sweeping through homes at Grey Bush or Congo Town, or the raging ebola virus and of course any invasion of the territorial integrity of our beloved Sierra Leone.
And if the military should take over then the first step must be in procuring a minimum of 40 thousand PPEs which should be special biological suits and not yellow or white but green such that it becomes unique to the military and precludes its use by anyone else.
Secondly the military medical team should now be deployed full force to lead the medical response. This is because what is needed at the forefront now is intense regimental discipline. The military are trained to work in hostile environments and under extreme pressure … why are we now shying away from using that expertise which is available to us?
Thirdly the military has an engineering wing and over the years a lot of money has been used in training them. It is our view that instead of finding commercial contractors to construct and set up treatment centers and then running after them to complete the work, the military should be deployed with the necessary logistics to work in shifts of 8 hours round the clock to build those centers with the help of Sierra Leonean professional engineers as back up to give advice and supervise thereby getting all hands on deck.
There is a lot of manpower in the military which is lying idle. I doubt whether any country will think of invading Sierra Leone now under the present circumstances of a raging Ebola virus, and this renders the military idle. However in a State of Emergency the military which is supposed to be our frontline fighters are otherwise cowardly quarantined in barracks with the warped notion that their role is always to hold a gun in defence of the country’s territorial integrity … we beg to differ here.
Judging by the WHO predictions for the next few weeks and the fact that even the centers now being built would not be enough to house the patients whom the lock down may predictably reveal, it makes good sense for a base planning now for the future.
This in our view entails the building of a thousand bed facility now for each of the 13 district divisions (Western Area Urban and Western Area Rural inclusive). Each of these new one thousand bed facilities must house a twenty bed special unit for such highly infectious diseases.
After Ebola, each of these 13 units must deal with a specialized area of medicine. For too long we have been beefing up other countries medical systems with our tax payers money by paying exorbitant medical fees for services which ought to be provided by ourselves. There must be a hospital dealing with infectious diseases, surgery, gynecology, heart diseases, sports medicine (fractures etc) and so on.
While we mourn the loss of lives, we must now turn the negative aspect of the raging Ebola virus into a positive one by building a more robust healthcare system. The time is now, because the eyes of the world are now turned to us, me must seize this opportunity and make the most of it. The Ebola monies must be used to start building a robust heath care system now. Those who have ears must hear this.
Thursday September 18, 2014

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