WCI Program Manager Rebecca Martinez visited River Gee and Maryland Counties to conduct a one-day training with 28 communicators in Fish Town and Plebo. She joined the WCI regional field officer Dominic Dennis and gave this report back about her visit and her observations.
Challenges in the Southeast
River Gee and Maryland’s location has affected these communities’ assessments of the Ebola virus. The region has been fortunate in that there have been only a few cases of Ebola. However, this has contributed to a lack of belief that the disease is real. The mobilizers have said that one of their biggest challenges is convincing people to use preventative measures – such as hand washing with soap and water, not touching people, or following certain protocols at funerals – against something that they have heard of but not personally seen or experienced.
Regional community leaders explained that if people do not see Ebola, then it is not real. One mobilizer said that if Ebola came to River Gee, “plenty of people would die because belief is not there”.
These counties’ citizens follow very traditional burial practices. There also is a high level of fear and distrust of the Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs) and burial teams. There is a fear among the citizens of being stigmatized if they go to the ETU, so they have stayed away.
That is very different from others parts of Liberia. There have been positive reports of Liberians leaving the ETUs healthy, and people are beginning to believe that it is possible to survive the ETUs. This message still needs to be strengthened within the communities, and this has been a central part of WCI’s work in the region.
WCI’s Approach to Fight Ebola
The trainings in Fish Town and Plebo emphasized Ebola prevention practices and basic information about what the ETUs are and how they should be utilized. In addition to the classroom training, there were demonstrations and practice by the communicators on effective hand washing with soap and water and correct preparation of cleaning solution.
Though there have been few reported cases of Ebola in the southeast, there are rumors and misinformation about the virus, its treatment, and the ETUs. A portion of the training was spent clarifying incorrect information about Ebola, the ETUs, how people become sick, and how to respond if someone seems sick. Dennis and Rebecca spent considerable time explaining when someone should go to the ETU and what to expect when a patient goes there.
There is a lot of stigma surrounding the ETUs. People are afraid to go to them because they believe they will die there. One of the roles of the social mobilizers is to make the ETUs less threatening by explaining what type of health care the patients receive there and that they are there to help, not harm.
The mobilizers told Rebecca about changes they see among their communities in Maryland and River Gee. The people are increasingly receptive to the government of Liberia’s message that “Ebola is Real”, and they understand that people that visit ETUs can and do survive.
For hand washing, Samaritan’s Purse previously distributed hand-washing supplies and installed hand-washing stations in front of almost every household and place of business in Maryland. Though behavior change requires more than knowing what to do, having the necessary supplies available makes it easier for people to adopt preventative practices.
WCI’s mobilizers are pleased with the progress they have seen and will continue their strong efforts to keep Ebola out of these communities where its prevalence has been low so far.
Additional comments from field officer Dominic Dennis
“Since the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, many other NGOs have been trying to fight this deadly virus that causedmany people to lose their lives. Among those groups helping to stop the spread ofEbola, WCI has partnered with the Liberian Ministry ofGender and Development and, through funding from the USAID and privatedonors, they are implementing multiple programs to empower the National RuralWomen Program of Liberia. The National Rural Women Program has worked with more than 20,000 rural women and men for many years and since three months ago they have established a strongnetwork which stresses community engagement to fight against Ebola across Liberia, including in the southeast region. WCI empowers the national Rural Women by building their social mobilization through training them in the area of preventing the spread of Ebola in more than 85% of the communities in the southeast including Sinoe County.
WCI has trained eight mobilizers, forty-one communicators, eightcounty leads and forty community leads in Sinoe, Grand Kru, Maryland,and River Gee Counties. Two assistants have been employed in the southeast.
In partnership with UNICEF, our organization is still carrying on thepreventive measures of the awareness of Ebola activities in thecommunities in the Southeast.Through E-CAP, the Rural Women have also been trained to use the iPhone to take pictures and to send reports using the U-Report.”