By Patrick Moser
Communities that were once considered off-limits to Ebola response teams are now doing their own outreach to help rid Guinea of the scourge.
MADINAGBE, Guinea/ HONG KONG, 19 May 2015 – A dozen people sit in the shade of a jackfruit tree, commenting on an illustration that shows a Muslim cleric and a few mourners watch men in protective suits conducting a burial.
“While there is Ebola, we cannot have burials the way we are used to. We cannot touch the body,” one of the villagers says, drawing nods and mm-hmms of approval from the rest of the audience.
© UNICEF Guinea/2015/Moser
Social mobilizer Manasta Yula, 20, uses illustrations to explain Ebola prevention measures to community members in Madinagbe, Guinea.
The mood at this small gathering in the village of Madinagbe reflects just how much attitudes have changed in Guinea, where only a few months ago many still believed the Ebola virus was a myth or an evil plot.
“People used to think we were spies, that we came to steal them,” says social mobilizer Manasta Yula, 20. “They would insult us. Now those same people are sensitizing others about Ebola.”
Located in the heart of Guinea’s Forecariah district, one of the country’s last remaining hotspots of the deadly disease, Madinagbe has not had a new Ebola case for weeks.
A few dozen miles away, Abdulaye Camara sits with his friends at an open-air bar set among the palm trees outside the rural town of Kaback. The bar consists of a few benches and a table loaded with beers, hard liquor and peanuts, but it also has a washing station – a plastic bucket with a tap, filled with chlorinated water.
Mr. Camara says he used to believe that the Ebola response teams wanted to “steal” people and sell them into slavery. He would lead local youth in preventing the teams from entering the area.
“We never hit them. We were just aggressive, telling them we’d harm them if they stayed,” he says.
But when his 15-year-old niece was taken to an Ebola treatment centre after falling sick – and lived to tell her story – Mr. Camara helped convince others in the community they needed to follow the mobilizers’ advice to protect themselves and their loved ones.
Spreading the message
Getting communities to adopt safe behaviours – such as reporting sick people and allowing specialized teams to conduct burials – is critical in the battle to defeat the virus in Guinea and Sierra Leone, just as it was central to achieving zero cases in Liberia.
Outreach campaigns are conducted on many fronts, with tens of thousands of UNICEF-supported social mobilizers deployed across the country, radio stations broadcasting prevention messages, and every possible group – including traditional healers, scouts, religious leaders and women’s organizations – helping in the effort to spread the message.
While there is concern that some communities may still be hiding sick people or conducting unsafe burials, there have been significant improvements over recent months.
© UNICEF Guinea/2015/Moser
Abulaye Camara, 38, at an open air bar in Kaback, Guinea. Camara used to threaten Ebola response team trying to enter his town. He now tells other community members how to protect themselves.
In Forecariah, social mobilizers are working hand-in-hand with health workers seeking to track down any sick person or anyone who has had contact with someone infected with Ebola.
Recently, a team made up of government, UNICEF and WHO experts found a woman suffering from Ebola hiding in a small hut. The team managed to convince her and her family to allow an ambulance to take her to a treatment centre, giving her a better chance of survival and reducing the risk to her community.
“We have seen a dramatic drop in cases over the past months, but the battle is far from over,” says Dr. Mohamed Ag Ayoya, UNICEF Representative in Guinea. “The final stretch – and we really hope that’s where we’re at – may well be the hardest, and we all need to put in the extra effort to finally get rid of this disease that has caused so much pain and suffering.”
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