Over 22 years in Liberia, Africare has used social and behavior change communication models to mobilize and work with more than 1,000 rural communities and villages. A critical aspect of these campaigns is ensuring that credible and respected community volunteers and community leaders are identified and trained to direct social mobilization efforts and provide education in their communities. This approach has been effective in overcoming the general population’s persistent denial of Ebola, a challenge that has fueled the spread of the disease.
One innovation Africare has introduced to Ebola campaigns so far is ensuring that communities are fully linked into the communication loop. We realized that while individuals with suspected cases were being collected from their home communities and taken to Ebola Treatment Units, updates or status reports about the patients’ progress were not getting back to their families and loved ones. This lack of communication increased the communities’ suspicions and mistrust in the system and health workers. Now, through the respected community representatives and Africare field staff, we are ensuring that communities are informed about the status of their relatives. Unfortunately, this model of communication is not done throughout Liberia due to limited funding.
So far, we have directly reached approximately 100,000 residents in Bong and Nimba counties with social and behavior change messages.
Since our last update, our Ebola social and behavior change communication campaign has trained more than 350 community health volunteers about the “Dos and Don’ts” of the disease. Africare has provided the volunteers with resource materials such as leaflets that are simplified for non- and semi-literate community residents. So far, we have directly reached approximately 100,000 residents in Bong and Nimba counties with social and behavior change messages.
In addition, Africare has trained more than 200 health care workers at primary health care facilities on basic infection prevention and control measures, as well as the need to practice universal precaution measures. All of these trainings are enforced by regular mentoring and supportive supervision by Africare staff.
Finally, we have involved community-based radio stations and provided on-air personalities with resource materials to deliver appropriate messages using local vernaculars as much as possible. Increased communications potentially will change perceptions and the behaviors of community residents which would ultimately curb the scourge of the Ebola.
by Ernest Gaie, Africare/Liberia Country Director