FAO Regional Office for Africa

Senegal: community listeners’ clubs on the frontline to stop the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease

3 November 2014 - On 17 October, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the end of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in the Republic of Senegal, commending the country on its diligence to stop the transmission of the virus. However, the United Nations (UN) agency warned “Senegal’s geographical position makes the country vulnerable to additional imported cases of Ebola virus disease. It continues to remain vigilant for any suspected cases by strict compliance with WHO guidelines.”

As an at-risk country, social mobilization is key in Senegal to prevent the spread of the disease, if any new cases are to be confirmed.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), along with other UN partners, has been supporting Senegal in the preparation of the national response plan to the EVD outbreak. FAO also contributed to the development of the national communication plan on EVD by sharing its experience in communication in order to promote behaviour change among communities.

Furthermore, FAO participated in social mobilization efforts through its networks of Farmer Field Schools and Dimitra community listeners’ clubs, which have been developed in the framework of several projects implemented in Senegal.

Community listeners’ clubs provide a forum for the community to discuss various topics such as agriculture, environment and health. Members meet regularly to express their daily problems, make decisions and take action to solve them. "Clubs promote a sense of social responsibility and cohesion among community members, enabling them to work together for their own community", says Ibrahim Hama, communication expert for the Senegal programme.

In the department of Velingara (Kolda region), 60 km from the border with Guinea, there are 40 community listeners’ clubs, in which members are regularly informed on EVD through a radio awareness campaign broadcasted by the local radio, Bamtaare Dowri.

In late September 2014, in Velingara, FAO seized the opportunity to train participants, including 40 club leaders, 10 facilitators and the director of a community radio, to address the issue of Ebola within community clubs. Four project officers, including two trainers from the Senegal River region (where the other 24 clubs are located) also attended this training.

Within the current context, all of the participants agreed to use community listeners’ clubs as a key platform to create awareness among communities, although Mamadou Samba Toure, a community listeners’ club facilitator in Ngoumbou (Velingara, Kolda), reminds us that the risk of EVD transmission and actions to be taken were already being discussed in the clubs. He explains for instance that systematic hand washing was initiated early on by the community listeners’ clubs.  

Following EVD discussions during the training, participants also agreed to involve a health expert, before or after the first club discussion, in order to facilitate community members’ exchanges on this sensitive matter. Therefore, at the end of the week, the organizers of the training invited the health district chief to validate the information shared during the training.

“We have learned many things this week and the most important is that our problems can be overcome! We just need to discuss them and decide on how to address them within the community. We can solve most of our problems by ourselves!”, concludes Bocar Baldé, a union technician (Velingara, Kolda).

Vincent Martin, FAO Representative in Senegal, highlights the need for this type of innovative activity to lead the response. “Such fora offer strong areas for local ownership of the messages, which are key to stop the spread of the disease. The clubs also act as a network, essential to the efficiency of early warning systems, as well as information dissemination and experience sharing. During a time of high-level risks, the clubs allow for rapid mobilization of community stakeholders regarding awareness activities.”

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