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Sierra Leone: Ebola survivors excluded from suit against government

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An umbrella body representing survivors of the deadly 2014-2016 West African Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone has expressed disappointment over a ruling by the regional court of Ecowas.

The ruling by the court excluded the group from the suit against the government.

The Sierra Leone government is facing a law suit brought against it by two Ebola survivors who said its poor handling of the epidemic led to the spread of the virus which claimed about 4000 lives in the country alone.

The Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors (SLAES), which represents the 4 052 people who survived the epidemic, applied earlier this year to join as a plaintiff in the matter which is to be heard before judges at the Abuja-based Community Court of Ecowas.

The original case was filed in January 2018 with the help of the civil society organization the Center for Accountability and Rule of Law.

On its second hearing on Tuesday, 26 February 2019, the court ruled that the association has no legal status, that is, it is “not a juristic person.”

Yusuf Kabba, President of SLAES, said “I do not feel good. I see it as justice denied to us as people who went through that difficult experience.”

Kabba is reported to have said that they feel disappointed because they have been going through a lot of troubles as a result of medical complications from the viral infection and that they haven’t received much support to overcome their ordeal.

The West African Ebola epidemic, which began in neighbouring Guinea in late 2013 and spread to Liberia and then Sierra Leone, eventually claimed over 11 000 lives out of nearly 30 000 cases across the world, with most of the deaths occurring in the three neighbouring Mano River Basin countries.

Cases were also recorded in Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, and as far as the United States, Italy and Spain.

While the poor state of the health systems of the West African countries were blamed for the severity of the epidemic, it’s widely believed that corruption played a part.

Reports in the aftermath of the epidemic indicated that millions of dollars in funds directed to help fight the epidemic went into private pockets. In Sierra Leone, an auditor’s report revealed billions of leones in unaccounted funds.

When the viral epidemic broke, it was under the leadership of Ernest Bai Koroma. A new government assumed office in April 2018, following elections the previous year. This new administration, under Julius Maada Bio, has vowed to investigate how the Ebola funds were used.

The issue is currently being heard at the ongoing Commission of Enquiry in Freetown. The Bio administration has since said it wanted to settle the matter out of court.


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