Twenty-nine-year-old Song strolls through the streets of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, as loud music blares out from the stalls of street vendors. “The war is over,” he says. “We’ve been liberated.” After 42 days with no new cases, the World Health Organization on Saturday officially declared Sierra Leone free from Ebola. “This time last year we were putting thousands of people in body bags, people were scared, unable to go out. Today we are free,” he explains.
I’m in Freetown this week with WaterAid, which has been working in hygiene promotion and assisting on crucial water and sanitation projects in Liberia and Sierra Leone as these countries try to rebuild their health systems after the Ebola crisis. Here in chaotic Freetown, reminders of this deadly virus linger everywhere. Roadside billboards remind residents to stay vigilant, and guards at security checkpoints are armed with thermometers and bottles of hand sanitiser.
Just outside of Freetown, in the suburb of Waterloo, lies Ebola’s Ground Zero – a cemetery filled with those who have died from the virus. The grave of a 99-year-old woman sits beside that of a three-year-old boy – a stark reminder that this deadly virus did not discriminate. In the distance, another burial team makes its way down the bumpy dirt track. A man wearing protective gear jumps out. “We have four bodies in here, two of them children,” he shouts.