New Humanitarian: We can’t stop Congo’s Ebola outbreak until communities lead the response

2 August, 2019

Below are extracts from a news article in The New Humanitarian, by Amy Daffe, Deputy country director for Mercy Corps in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Full text here: https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/opinion/2019/08/01/Ebola-outbreak-com...

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Instead of working with local leaders, outsiders arrived spreading messages that have left communities with more questions than answers. Information has not been well-tailored to different community contexts nor appropriately adapted to local languages or social norms...

Lack of community engagement and knowledge contributes to the lag in referral time. On average it is taking 5.5 days from the onset of symptoms for a suspected case to report to a health facility and more than half of parents are not referring their children...

In the West Africa Ebola outbreak of 2015, Mercy Corps led a huge social mobilisation campaign across Liberia, which reached 2.4 million people – more than half the population. We could only do that because we brought on board 77 partner organisations and 15,000 community communicators.

That campaign led to significant changes in attitudes. It taught us the importance of sharing the right type of information in the right way. “It helped us to understand the messaging because they sit with us to discuss and make us understand that Ebola is real,” one community participant explained.

We are only going to succeed in stopping the expansion of this epidemic by treating the communities as partners, drawing upon existing community level structures and resources (not creating parallel local structures), and mapping community dynamics – knowing who is influential and can help sway opinion...

One practical example is Mercy Corps’ ongoing Vision Ebola Zero programme launched in Goma in March 2019, which draws on our existing community network of volunteers. It has already reached more than 50,000 people with factual, practical information about Ebola, delivered by people the community know.

We need to engage local leadership, including local chiefs, and bring community groups on board with community conversations targeting caretakers and groups vulnerable to the virus, and train them on the use of education materials, early warning mechanisms, and conflict rumour resolution...

Only when communities are at the forefront of the response – with preparation, training, tools, support and funding – will we be able to end this epidemic.

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Best wishes, Neil

Coordinator, HIFA Project on Information for Citizens, Parents and Children

http://www.hifa.org/projects/citizens-parents-and-children

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG neil@hifa.org