COVID-19 in Sierra Leone

Dr. Kristen McLean is undertaking a new study of Community-based Experiences of Covid-19 in Sierra Leone. While many countries around the world are witnessing a decline in coronavirus cases, rates of infection continue to climb across the African continent, prompting one scientist to refer to the situation as a “ticking time bomb.” This is concerning for a number of reasons. First, system challenges—such as limited testing and diagnostic capacity and poor monitoring and data collection systems—will make it difficult for many African countries to effectively respond to the pandemic. A rise in treatment needs and mitigation efforts targeting COVID-19 will also divert already limited resources needed to tackle existing health issues in the region, such as HIV, TB, malaria, malnutrition, and maternal health.

In Sierra Leone, where McLean has worked since 2013, a rise in Covid-19 cases will likely lead to substantial disruption. As exemplified during the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak, Sierra Leone’s healthcare system has been severely weakened due to its history of civil war, followed by years of underinvestment in public health services. This created obvious problems during the epidemic, when hospitals and clinics quickly became overwhelmed and local populations avoided public facilities. At the same time, given their history and experience with Ebola virus disease, Sierra Leoneans may be uniquely positioned to respond to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

It is with an appreciation for the need to engage with local communities that this study seeks to understand what has been referred to as “the view from below” in the midst of a global humanitarian response. This project will rely upon phone-based qualitative interviews to assess individuals’ greatest concerns regarding the pandemic, what they are doing to protect themselves and their families from infection, and how people are coping with the indirect economic ramifications that social distancing and other containment measures pose.

If you are interested in learning more about the study, or would like to pursue this topic for your bachelor’s essay, please email mcleanke@cofc.edu for more information.

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