EBOLA
Despite a small drop in new cases, transmission remains "widespread" in Sierra Leone, according to the World Health OrganizationREUTERS

Sierra Leone's government has delayed re-opening the country's schools to 14 April.

The authorities had initially announced schools, which have been closed for eight months to contain the Ebola epidemic, would be re-opened on 30 March, but the spread of the disease began to gather pace in the country after a fall in new cases in February.

On 23 March, the country's President Ernest Bai Koroma announced a three-day national lockdown called "Zero Ebola," in which almost all Sierra Leoneans are supposed to stay indoors between 27 and 29 March and from 6am to 6pm on three consecutive Saturdays – including 4, 11 and 18 April.

The head of the government warned last week that the rate of transmissions may increase during the upcoming rainy season.

9,000 schools disinfected

The Minister of Education, Minkailu Bah, said the authorities are hoping to roll out a series of measures to enable an easy return in all schools – public and private – which have been closed since late July 2014 when the country declared the state of emergency.

These measures are designed "to ensure that our schools are safe and disinfected so that our children can go to school", Bah is quoted as saying on Wednesday (25 March) by AFP.

However, "children in areas quarantined [on 14 April] will not go to school, and schools in these areas will remain closed," he said.

An official of the School Inspectorate, Prince Cole, told AFP that disinfection operations were underway in some 9,000 schools across the country, and efforts are also being made to rehabilitate some of their infrastructure.

According to Cole, the authorities released 67bn leones (£10.3m, $15.3m) for the construction of toilets as well as the installation of hand pumps, in more than 2,700 schools.

School closures had disastrous effects on girls

Sylvester Meheux, president of the umbrella of directors of secondary schools, said he was "looking forward to putting back some 1.7 million students on the path of learning because school closures have had disastrous effects for many of them, especially girls", referring to early pregnancies.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which marks its gruesome first year today (25 March), has infected 11,841 and killed 3,747 in Sierra Leone alone, according to the latest World Health Organization figures.

On 3 March, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said it would immediately send $80m to Sierra Leone to help halt the outbreak and assist in its economic recovery.