Sierra Leone president defends his reaction to the Ebola crisis

ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers speaks to Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma. Credit: ITV News/Dan Rivers

We’d been promised we’d have at least 20 minutes to set up our equipment for an interview with the president of Sierra Leone Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma.

After waiting in a meeting room we were ushered to his cluttered office to prepare for the encounter.

It was crowded with advisers and press secretaries. Behind a desk at the far side, was an elderly gentleman making notes.

I did a double take and felt confused. Was that the president already sitting there? So much for our 20 minutes!

My cameraman hurriedly set up lights and the camera, as the audience of presidential staff watched on and the president silently continued his work.

He finally came over to say hello and the interview got underway. This is a rare public appearance by the president who has shunned the limelight since his country has been plunged into the chaos of the world’s worst Ebola epidemic.

He defended his perceived slow reaction to Ebola, saying:

His critics say he took five weeks to say anything publicly about Ebola, and it took 15 weeks to declare a national emergency.

I asked him whether he felt let down by the international community. He was too diplomatic to be overtly critical but conceded, “There have been commitments in terms of filling in the gaps, we wish this was done at some time in the past, but that is where we are.”

Translation: the world has taken a long time to wake up to this, but they are finally sending the people and equipment we need.

The hospital in Freetown is overwhelmed with cases of Ebola. Credit: ITV News

He thinks by the end of the year the virus will be contained and that the “worst will soon be over”. I’m not so sure.

We visited the main hospital in Freetown where new patients arriving with a fever are forced to wait in a tent outside the main gate, because the isolation ward inside is so overwhelmed.

The most dire predictions for the spread of the virus are really scary.

If the hospital here is unable to cope now, turning away patients who clearly are sick and could be infectious, what an earth will be the situation in a month’s time when the number of infected may have doubled from three to six thousand in Sierra Leone?

Transcript of Dan Rivers' interview with the president of Sierra Leone

There has been some criticism of the international community's response, that it's been too little too late. Do you feel that the people of Sierra Leone have been let down?

Some of your media here have been critical of your leadership during this crisis- it took you five weeks to speak after the outbreak, 10 weeks to visit the epicentre, 15 weeks to declare an emergency. Do you accept that your personal reaction was slow?

So you don't feel that in hindsight you would have done things differently?

That economic growth is clearly going to come to a standstill now. Are you worried about the economy of this country?

There has been talk, perhaps alarmist, about this threatening the very existence of some of these countries, Sierra Leone included. If Ebola isn't tackled it will lead to a complete breakdown of the situation here. Is that something you're concerned about?

How many people by then, do you think, will have died?

What's your message to the international community - you still need more help, don't you?

There is a lot of hysteria in the West, particularly about Ebola. Would you like to take the opportunity to correct that hysteria?

Are you confident those resources are in the pipeline?