Ebola outbreak: Quarantine 'just like a jail' in Sierra Leone

Door-to-door campaigns to find the sick and educate people are seen as key to any hope of stemming the spread of the deadly Ebola virus in the Sierra Leone capital of Freetown, the CBC's Carolyn Dunn reports in her first dispatch from the country.

Door-to-door community campaigns seen as key to educating Freetown residents

Members of the Bangura family are quarantined after a family member died of Ebola. Seventeen families are living under armed guard behind a rope cordoning them off from their community. (Carolyn Dunn/CBC News )

For 18 days, Alieru Deen Bangura’s family has been quarantined in a slum in Sierra Leone's capital of Freetown.

As part of the West African city's efforts to stem the spread of the deadly Ebola virus, the family lives under the watchful eye of armed guards 24 hours a day.   

Daniel Bob Jones, centre, leads a team that goes door to door in Freetown searching for people sick with Ebola. (Carolyn Dunn/CBC News )
Seventeen families are cordoned off with a thin, orange, plastic rope, a constant reminder that they are not free to go about their daily business.

“I would say it’s just like a jail for someone to be sitting down the whole day,” Bangura says.

From behind the plastic rope, he is mourning his brother’s death from Ebola.

So far, none of the rest of the family has shown signs of illness. But their conditions are wearing on them. 

Food and water, which are supposed to be delivered daily, are sometimes late and often not enough, Bangura says.

Neighbours 'scared to come at all'

The 23 children under five years of age are dirty, their clothing soiled. 

Bangura holds out no hope neighbours will leave food or water for them.

"People do not have the time to stand where you stand to talk to us," he says. "They are getting scared to come at all."

I would say it's like a jail for someone to be sitting down the whole day.- Alieru Deen Bengura

Fear is constant in Freetown, for good reason.

Sierra Leone has seen more than 9,000 cases of Ebola, according to the World Health Organization. Despite the number of cases going down in some areas of the country, the virus continues to spread unchecked in the capital city.

High-density living helps the virus spread and makes it next to impossible to track reliably.   

Key to stemming the contagion is to catch and treat sickness early, before the virus can be transmitted to others.   

Daniel Bob Jones considers that his job. He leads a team of searchers going house to house through Bonga Town and Crab Town, two Freetown slums.  

“We are trying to sensitize people at the community level,” he says, “trying to identify people and refer them back to the clinic.”  

Hiding relatives

So the team goes from one corrugated tin shack to the next, looking for anyone showing signs or symptoms of Ebola.  

First they ask if anyone is ill, then they seek permission to search the premises. People have been known to hide their sick loved ones.

Usually, we visit some houses, they take their loved ones to the toilets or bathroom and keep them there.- Daniel Bob Jones

"Usually, we visit some houses, they take their loved ones to the toilets or bathroom and keep them there,” Jones says.  

It is a dangerous response borne out of fear, World Health Organization spokeswoman Winnie Romeril spokeswoman says.

“Back in November and early December there just wasn’t enough space to take all the sick.” 

To them, a trip to the hospital meant certain death, quite possibly after being turned away for treatment. People lost all trust in the health-care system.

Romeril says there are now enough beds and staff to treat everyone. 

"Now, we’re having the challenge of convincing the Sierra Leonian people that’s true, that we can receive them, we can take care of them now and getting them to come out.”   

Jones and his team are using their encounters going to door to door to try to convince people they should call for medical help at the first sign of illness.

Jones says they must act as "mind-changers," because having Sierra Leonians working with health authorities will be pivotal to stemming the epidemic.   

CBC News is back on the ground in Africa, tracking the latest fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone and the efforts Canadians are making to contain the deadly virus. You can follow all of our news coverage on CBC TV, radio and online.

About the Author

Carolyn Dunn

National reporter

Carolyn Dunn is a longtime national reporter for CBC News. Her Canadian postings and assignments have taken her from St. John's to Calgary. She has reported extensively abroad including East, West and North Africa and has done several tours in Afghanistan. Have a story tip? Email


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