Ebola survivors sue Sierra Leonean government

Health workers wearing personal protective equipment assist an Ebola patient at the Kenama treatment centre in Sierra Leone in November, 2014
Photo: Francisco Leong/AFP

Two Ebola survivors have filed a suit at the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) Court against the Sierra Leonean government’s handling of the 2014 epidemic.

The epidemic claimed thousands of lives.

The two survivors, backed by the Freetown-based Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL), are accusing the government of violating its citizens’ right to life and health by mismanaging millions of dollars poured in by the international community to fight the epidemic, which ravaged West Africa between 2014 and 2016.

Nearly 30,000 people were infected and more than 11,000 of them died in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea where the viral epidemic first emerged.

In Sierra Leone, 3,956 lives were lost to the epidemic from the 14,124 confirmed infections.

Hundreds of millions of US dollars in foreign aid were sent to the region.
In the aftermath of the epidemic, there were reports of massive corruption as officials directly in charge of the efforts to contain the epidemic could not account for missing millions.

In a 15-page application formally filed with the Ecowas Court on December 15, the plaintiffs claim the government violated its citizens’ right to life by failing to adhere to accounting and procurement controls, which led to the loss of one third of the available resources and was responsible for a greater number of deaths from Ebola than would otherwise have occurred.

The suit also says the government violated its citizens’ right to health by failing to dedicate maximum available resources to the Ebola response.

It adds that the government’s poor stewardship of the Ebola funds diminished the human and physical resources needed to handle the outbreak.

The Sierra Leone government is also in the dock for its failure to conduct an effective investigation into the allegations of violations of the right to life and the right to health, caused by mismanagement of the Ebola funds.

Lawyers representing the survivors cite the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Constitution of Sierra Leone, all of which they say guarantee the right to life and the right to health, as basis for their suit.

CARL, in a statement at a press conference, cited a February 2015 report of the country’s Auditor-General which revealed that 30 per cent of the Ebola response funds managed by the Ministry of Health within five months of the outbreak could not be fully accounted for.

“Crucially, the report noted that the lapses in the management of the funds resulted in ‘a reduction in the quality of service delivery in the healthcare sector,’” the CARL statement notes, arguing that that situation resulted in multiplication of infections and deaths of citizens.

Two renowned human rights lawyers – a Sierra Leonean Michael Imran Kanu and Gambian Gaye Sowe of the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa – are representing the plaintiffs in the case that is expected to be heard in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

The Ecowas Court was formed as a result of a treaty by the 15-member countries that make up the economic bloc. The court has jurisdiction to hear human rights claims brought by individuals or public interest plaintiffs.

Daily Nation