From the Editor’s Keyboard

Sex in the Time of Ebola

19 October 2014 at 13:29 | 2337 views

By Alhassan Fouard Kanu, Guest Writer, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

The Ebola-stricken nation of Sierra Leone is employing whatever means possible, from individual to state level, in response to threats of the Ebola scourge. As a nation that believes in the Supreme Being, prayers have been constantly said in our prayer houses to invoke the mercy of the Almighty on a nation that is facing tangential damage to all aspects of society; a country that has endured strings of indignities as the name Sierra Leone now becomes synonymous to Ebola. Sierra Leoneans abroad are facing demeaning treatment and those in the country are subjected to dehumanizing screening measures when attempting to travel to other countries.

In our desperation to contain the Ebola menace, nothing has been spared including the midnight bathing of salt-water, which was perceived as a cure to the virus. As a people, we are employing A-Z of strategies such as the Ebola ABC (Avoid Body Contact). This strategy has rubbed us off of our strong religious and cultural practice of sharing pleasantries and love for one another though handshakes and hugs. With the Ebola ABC, we no longer shake hands with relations and friends nor hugging our brothers and sisters after Friday Jummah prayers or Sunday services.

The Ebola ABC containment measure is being propagated as key to remain Ebola-free as an individual and as a measure to free the state from the ravages of the merciless plague. From personal observations, the practice of Ebola ABC with regards to shaking hands has been the measure that has been widely accepted and implemented. People beat their chests with their hands or use the thumbs up sign in lieu of hand shakes in greetings. The Ebola ABC mantra is however not as effective as it should be, as naked hypocrisy has been observed by this author.

This author is currently conducting research trying to understand the epidemiology and dynamics of Ebola in Sierra Leone by evaluating the effectiveness of the Ebola ABC as a strategy to curbing the spread of the disease. Whilst observations out in the street and one-on-one discussions with Sierra Leoneans reveal a strict adherence to ABC practice, the picture is however, different when it comes to sexual relationships.

Over the weekend, this author visited three guest houses in Freetown (one each in the East, Central and West ends of Freetown-names withheld) that provide short stay services. The short stay service is one where men come round to spend time with their concubines. These guest houses are charging hourly for room occupancy. In each of the guest houses (with an average of 25 room capacity) visited, it was found out that all the rooms were occupied and scores of other guests waiting for vacant rooms.

Interestingly, key stakeholders in the fight against Ebola notably health workers, politicians, media personnel, civil society officials for example, were spotted in those guest houses. Some of these professionals are perceived as the custodians of Ebola-related information from whom much is expected with regards to putting into practice what they preach on winning this battle.

It saddened this writer that individuals perceived as responsible citizens and husbands/wives are still frequenting guest houses at this Ebola era. Whilst the poor can hardly afford guest house services, they have been lampooned and accused by the loudmouth elites, through the media, as facilitating the spread of the virus for their continued ignorance in tending bodies of their loved ones during burials. Unashamedly, whilst their beautiful wives and children are cautiously taking preventative measures against Ebola, the useless husbands and fathers are cheaply endangering their lives and those of their families from their irresistible impulses for sex. Some of these guest houses hardly change bed linens (soaked in sweat) and cleaning of toilets. Are these men (and women) not exposing the lives of their entire families and friends to the merciless Ebola virus?

Whereas a condom is very useful in preventing HIV AIDS spread during sex, it has a limited role in the case of Ebola. Sexual promiscuity is facilitating the spread of the virus far greater than handshakes. You can hardly get Ebola by shaking someone’s hand when you do not have skin breaks, and especially when accompanied with thorough hand washing. But imagine the extent of body contact involved in sexual intercourse; the sweat, the saliva during kisses, the seminal and vaginal fluid exchange-all this taken into consideration is enough to caution us all (both men and women) in Sierra Leone at this particular moment with an uninvited Ebola guest in our midst.

Health Education messages by diverse agents (including religious leaders) have been channeled through different media, radio and TV among others, but most of these channels shy away from emphasizing the role sexual promiscuity plays in facilitating the Ebola spread. In addition to buying chlorine and/or veronica buckets for hand washing for the household, families should also take into consideration sexual education in relation to the spread of Ebola. Responsible parenting is crucial at this stage where parents should endeavour to provide for the girl child, for example, to enable them resist temptations of engaging in transactional sex as this will expose them to the Ebola virus and sexual intercourse-related infections.

Sierra Leone winning the battle against Ebola has met seeming resistance to some of the containment measures. Denial on Ebola existence is a thing of the past; as there is a herd awareness level about the presence of this unwanted guest in our midst. We are however, hypocrites, stubborn and resistant as a people to adhere to some of the measures considered critical to winning the Ebola fight.

Let every Sierra Leonean observe a lull in their sexual drive (extra-marital sex embargo) in a bid to save oneself, family and society. Monogamy must become the practice at this challenging time.

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