Sierra Leone parliament votes to abolish death penalty

DAKAR (Reuters) – Sierra Leone’s parliament voted unanimously on Friday to repeal the death penalty more than two decades after the West African country carried out its last execution.

President Julius Maada Bio is expected to soon sign the bill into law, which will make Sierra Leone the 23rd African country to abolish capital punishment.

The bill also gives judges additional discretion when issuing sentences, which opponents of capital punishment say is particularly important in cases where the person convicted is a victim of sexual violence.

Sierra Leone has observed a moratorium on executions since 1998, but prisoners sentenced to death still live separately from other inmates, which activists say is dehumanizing.

“This is exactly what we were calling for,” said Rhiannon Davis of Advocaid, an advocacy group in the capital Freetown.

“It allows for judges to interpret the law and pass sentence in individual cases, which is particularly important in cases involving people who have experienced sexual or gender-based violence,” she said.

Sierra Leone is one of several African countries moving to end capital punishment. Malawi’s Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in April, and Chad ended executions for those charged with terrorism last year.

Sierra Leone’s last executions took place in 1998, when 23 soldiers were executed by firing squad at the height of an 11-year civil war. But death sentences have continued to be issued.

As of June 2020, 99 people were on death row for crimes ranging from aggravated robbery to murder, despite pledges from the last three administrations to abolish capital punishment.

“One of the things we have to clarify in the fine print is how this will be interpreted for those currently on death row,” Davis said.

(Reporting by Cooper Inveen; Editing by Aaron Ross and Cynthia Osterman)

270 bodies recovered from Sierra Leone mudslide: mayor

270 bodies recovered from Sierra Leone mudslide: mayor

By Christo Johnson and Umaru Fofana

FREETOWN (Reuters) – Rescue workers have recovered 270 bodies so far from a mudslide in the outskirts of Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, the mayor said on Tuesday, as rescue operations continued and morgues struggled to find space for all the dead.

President Ernest Bai Koroma urged residents of Regent and other flooded areas around Freetown to evacuate immediately so that military personnel and other rescue workers could continue to search for survivors that might be buried underneath debris.

Dozens of houses were covered in mud when a mountainside collapsed in the town of Regent on Monday morning, one of the deadliest natural disasters in Africa in recent years.

“We have a total of 270 corpses which we are now preparing for burial,” Freetown mayor Sam Gibson told reporters outside city hall.

Bodies have continued to arrive at the city’s central morgue. Corpses are lying on the floor and on the ground outside because the morgue is overloaded, a Reuters witness said.

“Our problem here is space. We are trying to separate, quantify, and examine quickly and then we will issue death certificates before the burial,” said Owiz Koroma, head of the morgue.

He did not have an updated death toll but said: “It’s in the hundreds, hundreds!”

270 bodies recovered from Sierra Leone mudslide: mayor

The surface of a hillside is pictured after a mudslide in the mountain town of Regent, Sierra Leone August 14, 2017. REUTERS/Ernest Henry


Sierra Red Cross Society spokesman Abu Bakarr Tarawallie said by phone he estimated that at least 3,000 people were homeless and in need of shelter, medical assistance and food. The Red Cross said another 600 were missing.

“We are also fearful of outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and typhoid,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Freetown. “We can only hope that this does not happen.”

Contaminated water and water-logging often lead to potentially deadly diseases like cholera and diarrhea after floods and mudslides.

Crowds of people gathered, waiting for news of missing family members.

“I’ve been looking for my aunt and her two children, but so far no word about them,” said Mohamed Jalloh, crying. He said he feared the worst.

President Koroma said in a television address on Monday evening that rescue centers had been set up around the capital to register and assist victims.

Bulldozers dug through mud and rubble at the foot of Mount Sugar Loaf, where many residents had been asleep when part of the mountainside collapsed. The government said a number of illegal buildings had been erected in the area.

(Writing by Nellie Peyton; additional reporting by Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

More than 200 killed in Sierra Leone as mudslide sweeps away homes

A man walks under umbrella in water covered street in Freetown, Sierra Leone August 14, 2017 in this picture obtained from social media.

By Christopher Johnson and Umaru Fofana

FREETOWN, (Reuters) – A mudslide killed more than 200 people on the outskirts of Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown on Monday, sweeping away homes and leaving residents desperate for news of missing family members.

The Red Cross said at least 205 bodies had been taken to the central morgue in Freetown. Police and military personnel were at the scene in the mountain town of Regent searching for people trapped in the debris.

Many people living at the foot of Mount Sugar Loaf were asleep when the mountainside collapsed, burying dozens of houses, including two-storey buildings, witnesses said.

People inspect the damage after a mudslide in the mountain town of Regent, Sierra Leone August 14, 2017.

People inspect the damage after a mudslide in the mountain town of Regent, Sierra Leone August 14, 2017. REUTERS/Ernest Henry

Standing in the rain, residents sobbed as they mourned family members and waited for news of those missing. Adama Kamara wept as she described a failed attempt to rescue her 7-week-old child.

“We were inside when we heard the mudslide approaching. I attempted to grab my baby but the mud was too fast. She was covered alive,” said Kamara, who escaped with bruises. She said she was not sure what had happened to her husband.

A man said he had left early in the morning to buy bread. When he returned, his wife, children, siblings and in-laws were all dead.

The death toll is expected to rise as more bodies are recovered, Red Cross spokesman Abu Bakarr Tarawallie said.

Vice President Victor Foh told Reuters at the scene: “It is likely that hundreds are lying dead underneath the rubble.” He said a number of illegal buildings had been erected in the area.

“The disaster is so serious that I myself feel broken,” he said. “We’re trying to cordon the area. Evacuate the people.”

An excavator plowed away at the mountainside and ambulances rushed back and forth to the city center with bodies and wounded, but rescue efforts were hampered by bad roads and the weather, a Reuters witness said.

Community chief Fatmata Tarawallie said she had started calling for help at 4 a.m. (0400 GMT) but that it did not come soon enough.

“Now our community has sunk,” she said.

Mudslides and floods are fairly common during the rainy season in West Africa, where deforestation and poor town planning has put residents at risk.


(Additional reporting and writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Janet Lawrence)


Scottish nurse who had Ebola cleared of hiding symptoms

Pauline Cafferkey a nurse who volunteered volunteered to treat Ebola patients in West Africa, then survived the disease herself, leaves a hearing after being cleared of misconduct charges in Edinburgh, Scotland

EDINBURGH (Reuters) – A Scottish nurse who contracted Ebola while caring for patients in Sierra Leone was cleared on Wednesday of allegations that she had put the public at risk by hiding the fact that she had a raised temperature when she returned to Britain.

Pauline Cafferkey, 40, was infected in 2014, during an outbreak of the highly contagious disease that killed more than 11,300 people in three West African countries.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council, which regulates the professions in Britain, held a two-day hearing in Edinburgh to investigate allegations that Cafferkey had allowed a wrong temperature to be recorded at London’s Heathrow Airport on her return.

She was also accused of failing to flag up her true temperature to medical staff at a screening area in the airport.

The panel dismissed both charges of professional misconduct after hearing that she had been impaired by illness as she went through the screening area, described in evidence as chaotic and under-staffed.

“Throughout her career Pauline has been motivated by a genuine desire to help other people even if this meant putting her own life at risk. She would never have knowingly put anyone in danger,” her lawyer, Joyce Cullen, told reporters.

Having been given the green light to leave the screening area and fly onwards to Glasgow, Cafferkey then became extremely unwell and was flown back to London to be treated in a special isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital.

She spent close to a month there before she was discharged. She has continued to suffer from ill health linked to the consequences of her Ebola infection and was twice hospitalized again.

Cullen told reporters after the end of the disciplinary hearing that it had been upsetting and stressful for Cafferkey, who would now continue with her nursing career in Scotland.

(Reporting by Russell Cheyne in Edinburgh and Estelle Shirbon in London; editing by Michael Holden)

Dozens feared exposed as Sierra Leone confirms new Ebola death

FREETOWN (Reuters) – A woman who died of Ebola this week in Sierra Leone potentially exposed dozens of other people to the disease, according to an aid agency report on Friday, raising the risk of more cases just as the deadliest outbreak on record appeared to be ending.

Just a day earlier, the World Health Organization (WHO) had declared that “all known chains of transmission have been stopped in West Africa” after Liberia joined Sierra Leone and Guinea in going six weeks with no reported new cases. The three countries had borne the brunt of a two-year epidemic that killed more than 11,300 people.

The WHO warned of the potential for more flare-ups, as survivors can carry the virus for months. But the new case in Sierra Leone is especially disquieting because authorities failed to follow basic health protocols, according to the report seen by Reuters.

Compiled by a humanitarian agency that asked not to be named, the document said the victim, Mariatu Jalloh, had come into contact with at least 27 people, including 22 in the house where she died and five who were involved in washing her corpse. But its account suggested others could also be at risk.

Jalloh, 22, began showing symptoms at the beginning of the year, though the exact date is unknown, the report states. A student in Port Loko, the largest town in Sierra Leone’s Northern Province, she traveled to Bamoi Luma near the border with Guinea in late December.

Sierra Leone’s northern border area, a maze of waterways, was one of the country’s last Ebola hot spots before it was declared Ebola-free on Nov. 7, and contact tracing was sometimes bedeviled by access problems.

By the time she traveled back to her parents’ home in Tonkolili district, east of the capital Freetown, using three different taxis, Jalloh had diarrhea and was vomiting, the report said.

She sought treatment at the local Magburaka Government Hospital on Jan. 8 where a health worker, who did not wear protective clothing, took a blood sample. It was not immediately clear whether the sample was tested for Ebola.

She was treated as an outpatient and returned home, where she died on Jan. 12. Health workers took a swab test of Jalloh’s body following her death, which tested positive for Ebola.

“The sample was tested for the first time on Thursday morning – around the same time as the WHO declared the Ebola outbreak over”, said Tim Brooks of Public Health England, the British agency that tested the sample at its lab in Sierra Leone.


The missed diagnosis has led to anger in some quarters. Dozens of young people gathered outside the hospital on Friday in a noisy demonstration, some holding placards accusing the health department of negligence.

“We are demonstrating because we want the authorities to explain to us why the woman was discharged and allowed to go home, where she died, and her corpse was given to her family to bury. We are now concerned that some family members may have been infected,” said local youth leader Mahmud Tarawally.

Asked about apparent errors in handling the case, Sierra Leone health ministry spokesman Sidi Yahya Tunis said that the patient had been tested for the virus and had received treatment in a government hospital. He did not give further details.

Information campaigns calling upon residents of Ebola-affected countries to respect government health directives have been largely credited with turning the tide of the epidemic. However, safety measures, particularly a ban on traditional burial ceremonies, have faced stiff resistance at times.

The report stated that five people who were not part of Jalloh’s parents’ household were involved in washing her corpse, a practice that is considered one of the chief modes of Ebola transmission.

Almost all the victims of the regional epidemic, which originated in the forests of Guinea in 2013, were in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

As of Thursday’s WHO announcement that Liberia had gone 42 days with no new cases, all three nations were apparently Ebola-free.

But Liberia had twice been given the all-clear last year, only for a fresh cluster of cases to emerge. And the case in Sierra Leone adds further uncertainty.

“It is really important that people don’t understand this 42-day announcement as the sign that we should all just pack up and go home,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said on Friday. “We should stay there and be ready to respond to these possible cases.”

Ben Neuman, an Ebola expert and lecturer in virology at Britain’s University of Reading, said: “A hospital in Sierra Leone completely misdiagnosing a case of Ebola, apparently without sending a sample to one of the many testing labs that are being kept open for just this reason is ridiculous -completely unacceptable.”

He said Ebola was hard to distinguish from many other diseases that cause pain, fever, diarrhea and vomiting.

“The only way to know for sure is by testing whether pieces of the Ebola virus are present in the blood,” Neuman added.

“People still make better doctors and nurses than computers, but people will always make mistakes. Unfortunately this mistake is a big one.”

Ebola is passed on through blood and bodily fluids, and kills about 40 percent of those who contract the virus.

While the WHO has said that another major outbreak is unlikely, it says the risk of flare-ups remains because of the way the virus can persist in those who survive it. Research on survivors has located it in semen, breast milk, vaginal secretions, spinal fluid and fluids around the eyes.

(Additional reporting by Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Emma Farge in Dakar and Kate Kelland in London; Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Joe Bavier and Mark Trevelyan)

Guinea, Origin of West Africa Ebola Outbreak, Now Free of Virus

Health officials say that Guinea is officially free of Ebola, a milestone achievement for the nation that was the original source of a deadly outbreak of the disease about two years ago.

The World Health Organization (WHO), an arm of the United Nations, made the announcement on Tuesday, saying it had been 42 days since test results on the West African nation’s final confirmed Ebola patient came back negative. The WHO said the outbreak that ravaged Guinea and the neighboring nations of Sierra Leone and Liberia, killing thousands of people and sickening scores more, originally began in Gueckedou, Guinea, late in 2013 before spreading.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rare-but-often-fatal disease killed 2,536 people in Guinea, the vast majority of people who fell ill with it. The virus also killed 3,955 in Sierra Leone and more than 4,800 in Liberia. In isolated instances, Ebola arrived in seven other nations and killed 15 more people, including one in the United States.

Though the outbreak received widespread coverage from around the globe, 11,300 of the 11,315 Ebola deaths occurred in the three West African nations most severely impacted by the virus. Likewise, CDC data show 28,601 of the 28,637 suspected ebola cases occurred in those nations.

The WHO deemed Sierra Leone free of the disease in November, according to a statement at the time. The WHO had also declared Liberia free of the disease in September, according to the CDC, though three additional cases of the Ebola virus have surfaced in the past few weeks.

The WHO says that Ebola can linger in the bodies of some male survivors for up to one year, making monitoring important. The organization said officials would be on high alert for the next 90 days to ensure any potential new infections are rapidly discovered to prevent transmission.

Ebola Death Leads to Quarantine Zone in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone officials confirmed to world news outlets the death of a 67-year-old woman from Ebola and the quarantine of the entire village where she was living.

“Over 970 people are being monitored under quarantine as there is information that they had had some contact with the deceased woman who tested positive after her death,” the district Ebola response office said in a report distributed to reporters.

“From those under quarantine, 48 are considered as high risk and they are in various holding centers in the district and not treatment centers, as none of them have exhibited any signs and symptoms of Ebola.”

Local officials say that the woman lived in the village of Sella Kafta and was sick for 10 days without any officials being alerted to her symptoms.

Without any further victims of the disease, the quarantine will last three weeks.

A BBC correspondent on the ground the Sierra Leone said the government is using a stricter quarantine than in previous cases.  Residents are being prohibited from moving from house to house.

Soldiers and police are surrounding the town and allowing no one but authorized government officials and health workers to enter or leave the area.

Head of CDC Heads to Sierra Leone

Concerns about the new Ebola scare in Sierra Leone has the head of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) flying to that nation.

The report of the trip comes on the heels of Sierra Leone officials admitting they have two more new cases of the virus connected to the first victim who died last week.

“We now know where the virus is and we are tracking its movement, by surrounding, containing and eradicating its last remaining chain of transmission,” ational Ebola Response Centre’s OB Sisay said.

CDC Head Dr. Tom Frieden reportedly will help assess the situation and provide advice on steps needed to control the new outbreak.

Officials say the problem with controlling the virus early is that the initial symptom of fever is similar to that of other diseases such as malaria and typhoid.  That would lead some folks who have Ebola to not seek treatment or isolate themselves because they don’t know they have the deadly virus.

The Ebola outbreak has killed more than 11,200 people worldwide although the overwhelming number of deaths were in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

Ebola Surges Again In Liberia

Health officials fighting the outbreak of Ebola in Liberia have confirmed that a new wave of the virus has broken out near the Sierra Leone border.

Authorities say that dozens of new cases have been rushing into health centers and marks a huge setback to the nation, which had thought they were bringing the viral outbreak under control.

Assistant Health minister Tolbert Nyenswah said that the new cases could be connected to people traveling across the Sierra Leone border and returning home.  Sierra Leone has passed Liberia for the total number of Ebola cases.

Liberia has reported close to 3,400 deaths from Ebola and over 8,000 cases.  The World Health Organization says that Sierra Leone has now passed Liberia with 9,000 cases of the deadly virus.

Liberian officials did not say if they would take steps to block border crossings.

Sierra Leone’s Leading Doctor Dies of Ebola

Government officials in Sierra Leone announced the country’s leading doctor died from Ebola Thursday just hours after the arrival of experimental drugs to treat him.

Dr. Victor Willoughby contracted the virus after working on a patient that came in complaining of pain in his organs.   The patient, a senior banker in the nation, was later confirmed to have had Ebola after his death.

Sierra Leone Chief Medical Officer Brima Kargbo said that the experimental drug ZMapp was flown into the country in a frozen form but had not thawed when Dr. Willoughby’s health declined to the point of death.

His death makes the 11th doctor in Sierra Leone to die from Ebola during the massive outbreak out of 12 infected.  In addition to the doctors, 109 of 142 health care workers infected with the virus have died.

“We’ve lost personal friends and colleagues we’ve worked with. It’s extremely depressing and frustrating. You can talk to someone today and tomorrow they are Ebola-infected,” Dr M’Baimba Baryoh said.  “The tension, the depression, it’s a lot of pressure. You start having nightmares because of Ebola.”

The epidemic’s official death toll continues to rise toward a gruesome new mark, closing in on 7,000 total deaths.  Officials admit that the death toll is likely much higher than the official count as many families in rural areas have buried victims without seeking government assistance.