Social mobilization: 2 400 rural people to benefit from anti-Ebola messages and hygiene kits in Liberia

Social mobilization: 2 400 rural people to benefit from anti-Ebola messages and hygiene kits in Liberia

28/10/2014

The Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak has claimed over 4 800 lives, and continues to claim many more across West Africa. The epidemic is so severe that every sector of the economy is being affected. Farmers, forest users and community dwellers in rural areas are among the worst affected, as the very sources of their livelihoods are being threatened.

Liberia alone accounts for the highest rate of infections and deaths, and the outbreak continues to spread throughout the country at an unprecedented rate. Speaking at UN Headquarters in September 2014, Liberia’s Defense Minister claimed the disease is “devouring everything in its path.” Since its beginning, the outbreak has not only cost lives, but affected livelihoods, instilled fear, restricted movement and reduced agricultural activities.

Encouraging the adoption of healthy practices to reduce the risks of exposure and transmission of the disease is a complex but essential process that requires a strong, multi-partner commitment. “FAO is fully supporting social mobilization and sensitization efforts in both rural and urban communities in the country,” said Mr Alexis Bonte, FAO Representative in Liberia, ad interim. “This will enable farmers and forest users to adopt preventive hygienic measures to stop any further spread of the disease.”

The Government of Liberia and FAO jointly organized a three-day Ebola awareness training for national stakeholders that was held from 15 to 18 September 2014. The training targeted farmers and forest users under the theme “Rapid Response against Ebola Prevention and Control”. This training was decentralized and simultaneously conducted in Kakata, Gbarnga and Zwedru for the Western, Central and Eastern regions, respectively.

Using training materials and messages prepared and approved by the government, CDC, MSF, UNICEF, WHO and other partners, approximately 120 representatives from fifteen counties were trained on creating awareness and social sensitization in order to stop human-to-human transmission of the disease. During the meeting, participants drafted a proposal outlining what would be needed to carry on a robust Ebola awareness raising campaign in the upcoming weeks, and committed themselves to training a minimum of 20 persons each. Around 2 400 persons in the three regions are expected to be reached with the anti-Ebola messages through community-to-community and door-to-door outreach. The spread of information is then expected to continue progressively among rural households.

To kick start the post-training sensitization campaign, FAO and partners set out in October 2014 to distribute the required materials summarized in the training session proposal. Liberia’s Ministry of Health approved Ebola prevention posters, flyers and messages, as well as hygiene materials and kits containing megaphones, Clorox, faucet buckets and gun thermometers. The kits will be provided to trained representatives from youth groups, women’s groups and the Farmers Union Network (FUN) who are committed to conducting further training in rural communities across Liberia.

Following the distribution of the awareness raising materials and kits, FAO and partners will work with the youth, women and FUN groups in establishing proper sensitization and information sharing linkages with the County Ebola Task Force and other local agencies to ensure a well-structured and sustainable campaign effort in all 15 counties. As a follow-up mechanism, a process of continuous and integrated EVD awareness creation and social mobilization will accompany FAO’S routine field activities to ensure continued engagement of farmers and forest users.

The ripple effect is expected to be far-reaching for rural dwellers mainly in farming and forest communities where awareness raising on the disease has so far been inadequate. According to Vincent Martin, Head of FAO's Subregional Resilience Hub for West Africa in Dakar: “FAO is presently supporting social mobilization activities in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Mobilizing communities in these three countries to stop transmission and prevent the spread of the disease is vital. This is the kind of positive snowball effect we need to protect lives and livelihoods and to safeguard food security and nutrition.”