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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

What it is like to fight COVID-19 at home and at work – By David Moinina Sengeh

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“Good morning your excellency sir,

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I wake up daily and clutch my phone until I see the above updates from the National Coordinator of the COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center. I serve on the Presidential Taskforce for COVID-19 where we get near real-time situation updates on the emergency for strategic decision making.

At around 4:30pm, I check my phone for an updated daily link in the “COVID ICT Support Group” of 88 members from government, academia, private sector and development partners:

“Hi All,

Please find the link for today’s call …”

I provide leadership to the ICT and Data Pillar of the COVID-19 response. 

At all times of the day, I check my phone to see what’s happening in my private family WhatsApp group. While I am the youngest in my family, I am privileged to play a critical role in decision making. 

My eldest brother tested positive for COVID-19 a couple of weeks ago. While in treatment he needed oxygen support to breathe and he received excellent care from the Jui Treatment Center. He made a full recovery. 

My mother, 67 and her home was tested and quarantined for over 14 days because my brother had visited them once early when he was feeling sick. They all turned out negative after undergoing full quarantine orders.

Last week, my dad had a health emergency. He said he was taking malaria treatment because he wasn’t feeling too well. I went to see him with my wife at the hospital. All of my siblings also showed up because that’s what families do. He didn’t have classical COVID-19 symptoms. So we donned on our masks as per public health guidance and visited him. The doctors said he was ok to go. My wife and I drove him to his home. 

When I heard he was still feeling weak a day later, I asked my dad to take the COVID-19 test. See, my dad is a relatively healthy 70 yr old man. He loves walking and still enjoys working even though he’s retired. One’s brain doesn’t retire at 65 particularly when you have spent your entire life in service to others. My dad took the test and he turned out to be positive for COVID-19. We immediately informed all family members who had gone to see him. He told everyone who he had seen. He was taken to a government treatment center. He has some pneumonia and needs some oxygen support. We are confident of the care he is receiving at the 34 Military Treatment Center.

My wife and I immediately took the tests and self isolated. The results came back within 48 hours and I tested negative. My wife’s result was positive. Now, it’s easy to be sceptical about the results but I know enough to know that the world is grappling with a pandemic of immeasurable impact. I know enough to know that transmission mechanisms, individual susceptibility of persons to the virus are all still active research areas. While my wife is fully asymptomatic, our household is being tested and our home will be quarantined.

As someone involved directly in the fight against COVID-19 in different capacities; both as a service provider and service beneficiary; and as a policymaker and a citizen, I would like to make the following five observations (and I am aware of my academic and socio-economic privileges):

  1. COVID-19 is real: take a test today to save a loved one. I still see Sierra Leoneans resist taking COVID-19 tests even when they have been exposed and are aware of the virus (some studies say 98% of citizens know of Coronavirus). While you may be fine and asymptomatic today; while you may be young and can fight some of the symptoms; our loved ones- our mothers, fathers, and grandparents are at risk. Your goal is to protect your family. So if you are exposed, if you feel symptoms, do the loving thing and take a test. Not tomorrow, but today. Call 117.
  2. Do not politicise the fight. Yes I am part of the government and my views may be immediately categorised as partisan. I invite you to for a split second observe that the impact of COVID-19 on the world and in particular on Sierra Leone does not see political party colors. The economy, the mortality rates, the ongoing learning crisis, are all issues we must resolve together whether you are in opposition or in government. 
  3. Trust the system: it’s easier said than done. But the most important aspect in trust is each party recognising their responsibilities and communicating about their actions and in particular their limitations. As a member of the response team at several levels in Sierra Leone, I have full trust in our leadership, our healthcare system and in our response. Yes, there are tremendous lapses. Yes, communication can be more transparent. Yes, civil society can be called on more as partners. And in the same breath I observe that THIS is an emergency- we all have to remove the bureaucracy and not wait for THAT invitation letter. I trust the system and that’s why all of my family members who are primary contacts have been tested. I trust the system that’s why three of my family members who have tested positive have used the system. I trust the system because while I know it has challenges, the people there are excellent and dedicated to their work. I see young doctors, nurses, surveillance officers and others committed to fighting this crisis.
  4. Trust the Government: I trust the government. Not because I am in it but because I see it working long and late daily to ensure that we respond to this crisis in a way that places the citizens at the heart of it. We are optimising for all citizens and in particular the poorest and most remote. I have participated in meetings for 6 hours back to back chaired by the President where we discuss lockdown strategies. I see how we use data from the field to inform new regulations. I see how engineers develop codes at 3am so that it can be ready for use by the response team at 6am. I see how various heads of institutions are asking questions of each other so that we can fight this together. What does it mean to trust in government: it means we wear our masks when we leave our homes; it means we provide our correct information to surveillance; it means we don’t try to break the inter-district lockdown and curfew rules; it means we comply with all health advisory from our care providers. Governance is a two-way street heading to the same committed goal: towards the national development of Sierra Leone.
  5. Get ready for a new world: things don’t really ever go back as it were. This time especially, things CANNOT go back as they were. We must expect a new kind of governance and citizen engagement driven by a commitment to shared ethos and values; accelerated by technology and digitization; and optimized for our poorest, systematically excluded and most marginalized. Our education and learning systems, our healthcare preparedness and response, and our social justice and inclusion framework have to evolve. And it must start today. 

While the impact of COVID-19 on Sierra Leone will continue to evolve, I remain hopeful. As a Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education I also have to think about the health pandemic alongside the learning and education pandemic. We each will be impacted in different ways and it is for those reasons we must reaffirm our faith and commitment to our land that we love, Sierra Leone.

By David Moinina Sengeh

Minister Of Basic and Senior Secondary Education at Government of Sierra Leone


The impact of covid on all of us is tremendous. Here I share my story as a policy maker, service provider and end user of the Government’s response. I remain hopeful.

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