Ebola: Sierra Leone announces semen testing programme

The Ebola virus. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Sierra Leone has announced a controversial project to shield recovered Ebola patients from transmitting the virus through sexual intercourse.

'Operation Project Shield', unveiled Monday, will provide regular testing of survivors' semen to ensure they do not transmit the virus sexually.

Until now the accepted scientific theory of transmission of the virus from survivors indicated that the virus could be found in the semen of male survivors for a period of 90 days, after which it disappears.

But the National Ebola Response Centre (NERC) says contrary to that view, latest studies suggest the virus can last for six months in some cases.

"At the beginning of the fight, we were told that it lasted for 90 days in the semen of some survivors but now we know that for a small number of survivors it can last for six months,” said Yvonne Aki-Sawyer, director of planning at the NERC, during the launch of the project.

Survivor populations

Focus on survivors heightened recently when the last two cases in the northern districts of Kambia and Bombali were discovered, reversing the clock on the 42-day countdown for the country to be declared free of the virus by the World Health Organisation.

In both cases involving women, the NERC is yet to identify the source of the infections, spicing up speculation that both victims had had contacts with survivors of the disease.
As part of Project Shield, new special treatment centres will be built in selected communities with high survivor populations to regularly test their semen to ensure they do not carry the virus.

Fifty survivors have been assembled for a two-day training as part of the project. The training ends Tuesday.

The semen testing programme is expected to commence in mid-November, with three districts – Western Area (Freetown), Port Loko and Bombali – identified for the pilot phase.

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