Sierra Leone has announced drastic measures to try and curb the Ebola epidemic currently sweeping across West Africa: for three days, the government is placing the entire country in lockdown.
From Sept. 19-21, residents of Sierra Leone will be confined to their homes while medical teams sweep the country door-to-door, looking for Ebola patients hiding from medical authorities. The lockdown will be enforced by the military and the police. (Video via ENCA)
Sierra Leone hopes the lockdown will help stop the spread of Ebola, which has killed 491 people in the country, according to the latest WHO estimates. The WHO says over 2,000 people have died from the outbreak across the three hardest-hit countries — Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. (Video via BBC)
Sierra Leone's information minister told CNN the lockdown will help identify all of the remaining Ebola patients who haven't come forward, as well as give medical authorities time to diagnose and treat people who have contracted the virus, but haven't shown symptoms of it yet.
"Locking down the country is like turning the whole country into an open laboratory. ... When they develop symptoms within three days, they will be identified and taken to treatment centers."
But the country's strategy is being criticized by some health organizations, including Doctors Without Borders. A spokesperson for the medical nonprofit told reporters, lockdowns and quarantines "end up driving people underground and jeopardising the trust between people and health providers. This leads to the concealment of potential cases and ends up spreading the disease further."
Health agencies have longed blamed mistrust of healthcare workers as a key factor in Ebola's rapid spread. One medical official told The New York Times educating communities about the risks of harboring Ebola patients is a much more effective strategy than lockdowns.
Liberia has also responded to the outbreak with lockdowns: in August, the Liberian government shut down a neighborhood in the capital Monrovia. That lockdown led to protests and clashes between residents and security forces.
The Ebola epidemic shows no signs of slowing down, and agencies around the world are racing to develop a treatment. Yesterday, the WHO greenlit the use of blood transfusions from Ebola survivors to combat the virus.
This video includes images from Getty Images.