The ECOWAS Court in Abuja has just started considering an application by the Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors to be a part of a case brought against the government for alleged human rights abuses during the Ebola outbreak in 2014/15.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs – health workers during the outbreak – argue that the mismanagement of $14 million as identified by an internal audit, led to deaths and suffering which could have been avoided, with many still grappling with the aftermath.
The plaintiffs rely on the findings of two special audit reports released by the Audit Service of Sierra Leone in 2015 and 2016, which found that the government’s fiscal mismanagement caused “a reduction in the quality of service delivery in the health sector” during the Ebola crisis.
Specifically, the plaintiffs argue that the government’s poor stewardship of the Ebola funds diminished the human and physical infrastructure needed to handle the Ebola crisis including, for example, insufficient numbers of healthcare workers, ambulances, and treatment facilities. The result was a greater number of Ebola infections than would have occurred otherwise.
Further, the plaintiffs argue that the government failed to investigate effectively mismanagement of the Ebola funds. Investigation is critical to preventing future violations.
The ECOWAS application seeks several remedies, including declaratory relief, a review of compliance with government accounting and procurement controls, initiation of relevant criminal inquiries, and monetary damages. The application also includes relief requiring the government to invest more resources in addressing the health needs of survivors of the Ebola virus disease.
In July 2018, the Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors (SLAES), a national group which represents 4,000 Ebola survivors and affected family members, requested to join the litigation as a plaintiff. In early 2019, the ECOWAS Court likely will determine whether to grant that request. Lawyers for the plaintiffs, Augustine Marrah Esq, Yasmin Jusu Sheriff Esq, and the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) based in The Gambia, will be present in Abuja for the January 24 hearing.
Meanwhile, in November 2018, the government of Sierra Leone indicated to the plaintiffs that it would prefer out-of-court settlement, but negotiations have yet to commence.
The plaintiffs seek from the government, among other things:
Review and reform of procurement and budgeting policies, so that funds will not be mismanaged in the future
Ongoing medical and mental health support for Ebola survivors
Stigma reduction initiatives, employment opportunities, job training, and educational support for Ebola survivors so that they can reintegrate into Sierra Leonean society
As recommended in the 2018 Government Transition Team report, a commitment by the government to investigate and prosecute individuals suspected of stealing Ebola funds, and recover said funds to compensate Ebola victims and survivors.
Since the end of the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, Ebola survivors have continued to deal with real and chronic Ebola-related health problems such as erectile dysfunction, partial blindness, joint pains, male infertility problems, loss of appetite, severe headache, abnormal menstruation, hearing problems and fatigue, and mental health challenges due to serious depression. Some have died during the process.