October 2, 2022

By Allieu S. Tunkara

The people of Sierra Leone have again demonstrated a lack of trust in governance in the COVID-19 period. A great number have refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19, a virus that has claimed hundreds of thousands of life. They openly discredit COVID-19 vaccines saying that they emanated from China where the virus broke out.

They are also suspicious of government infecting them with the virus. This fear made them to resist the drugs from China as part of their contribution to put an end to a deadly virus. The rejection of the vaccines further demonstrates the people’s disbelief in the existence of Corona Virus disease. Residents in the eastern headquaters of Kenema have recently taken to the streets to show the people of Sierra Leone that Corona Virus does not exist.

Indeed, COVID-19 broke out in November, 2019 in the People’s Republic of China where the virus wreaked one of the greatest disasters known to mankind. It spread fast to other countries where thousands of lives were claimed and economies ruined. United States and the United Kingdom are prominent victims of COVID-19.

Nonetheless, countries in the world are turning to China for aid in the form of vaccines including Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone’s closest neighbour, Guinea was first to opt for vaccines from China to vaccinate their people. The West African country was successful in the vaccination exercise.

The vaccines tremendously helped in the fight against the virus. In light of the successes recorded in Guinea, Sierra Leone also followed suit by requesting China for similar aid. Strong bilateral relations prompted China to donate 200, 000 vaccines to Sierra Leone to mitigate the virus’s impact.

The arrival of the vaccines initially aroused confidence in the people of Sierra Leone that the nation would be free from the lethal virus.

Government, on several occasions have been called upon to put in for more vaccines as the 200, 000 could not take care of 7,000,000 (Seven Million) population. Following the donation, hopes were also high that COVID-19 has been dealt with a severe blow.

However, the refusal to be vaccinated has caused another great setback. Some residents in Freetown who spoke to this medium said they would not take in any COVID-19 vaccine. Most suspect a connivance between China and Sierra Leone Government to cause deaths in the country.

Adama Kamara, a resident at Allen Town in Freetown told this press that he would not subject herself to any form of vaccination. She feared that she would be infected with the virus should she allow health workers to vaccinate her.

“I will not allow myself to be vaccinated by any health worker. I have no confidence in this government,” Adama said.

Adama is not alone in the refusal of COVID vaccination. Some of her colleagues too have made up their minds never to accept the vaccination fearing terrible consequences. Another resident in the same community Pa Santigie Kamara says he too would not accept the vaccine.

Pa Santigie also is very much suspicious of government to have manipulated the vaccination programme to take away their lives.

Arguments still continue in media platforms as to who will accept the vaccines in the face of conspiracy theories that undermine confidence in the drugs. Varied arguments have come up about the people’s fear.

Some arguments go in favour while others disfavour the people’s decision to resist the vaccination. Arguments in favour of the people’s decision casts aspersion on government’s mode of information dissemination to the public.

Those who speak to this media have been blunt to say government has not communicated well about the new vaccine China donated to the people of Sierra Leone. The argument holds that when devastating virus strikes, government must intensify its communication with the public to dispel misconceptions that would create distrust between government and the people.

But, government, the argument continues, has found it difficult to effectively communicate since the outbreak. The public relations disaster confronting government could be traced to a period the New Direction Government took over governance of the state.

A majority of Sierra Leoneans say government’s actions have failed to foster good relationship with them. With such a strained relationship, it would be difficult to believe them in a moment of crisis.

The other side of the argument holds that the people of Sierra Leone must have confidence in the governance of the state.

Arguments in favour of government made direct and specific reference to the manner in which government has stoutly safeguarded the country from the devastating virus. They say Sierra Leone was the first country to seal off its borders following the outbreak of the virus regardless of geo-political consideration.

Government’s action, the argument holds, has been very pro-active since the virus was heard in other countries.

Government took tough action even before the virus entered Sierra Leone to make sure their citizens are safe. Mistrust between government and the people is not peculiar to only the New Direction Government.

Mistrust between government and the people also showcased itself during the Ebola period between 2014 and 2016. Ebola virus struck Sierra Leone in May 2014 putting medics and other health professionals into disarray.

Modalities regarding how to communicate during emergency situations were virtually absent. Confronted with a new virus, the health workers put out fragments of inaccurate communication to the public.

The first communication that came out indicates that Ebola Virus is deadly so much that it had no cure, not even prevention.

This message became a big road block for people to visit hospitals. Questions about why should I go to hospitals where there is no cure were most frequently asked. A former matron at Connaught hospital, Isatu Koroma told this press in a recent interview that visits to the hospital dropped considerably. Although she could not provide statistics, but the lonely and quiet Connaught hospital at that time testify to the poor attendance.

The situation became a constant source of worry for government in the face of a devastating virus that was taking a huge death toll.

Government changed its communication pattern by reassuring the people that supportive treatment could be provided for Ebola patients. Although government employed many communication channels to communicate with the people, they people found it extremely difficult to accept such messages. A great majority preferred self-treatment to visiting hospitals.

The lack of trust in governance continued in the face of intensified communication about steps to be taken to prevent the virus. The people of Sierra Leone showcased their distrust with government when they rejected soap and other detergents supplied by government at the height of Ebola.

The people had the thought that the items supplied are Ebola items.

The same situation is here today. COVID Vaccines have been rejected. The people fear that their health is at risk if they submit to the vaccination. The question of what should government do to restore public confidence among its subjects for future health and other crises is still asked.