IFRC

Angola Red Cross volunteers faced with fears and myths in rural areas

Published: 14 July 2006 0:00 CET

Tapiwa Gomo in Sumbe, Angola

More than 1890 people have already lost their lives and more than 46 700 cases have been recorded in Angola, in what has become the worst cholera outbreak in Angola’s recent history. Uncertainty still grips the affected communities.

For some, cholera means death, while others believe it could have been caused by evil spirits. Several people have died at home due to these misconceptions especially in the rural areas of Sumbe. But cholera is simply an acute intestinal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.

Behind all these fears, myths and misconceptions associated with cholera, many Red Cross volunteers are risking their own life in the fight against the epidemic. “Being a Red Cross volunteer for many years has taught me to care for my neighbors and we have been much closer to our communities,” says Daniel da Silva, a volunteer for more than eighteen years.

“We cannot watch people get sick and die when we have a strong role to play,” he adds. Daniel has also been an active volunteer in the HIV/AIDS home based care programme for the past three years.

Since the start of the cholera outbreak in Angola, Red Cross volunteers together with the Ministry of health have been involved in a massive public awareness campaign. They have been distributing pamphlets and teaching people how to prevent and manage the cholera epidemic.

Funerals especially in rural communities present a huge challenge for the volunteers as people shake and wash their hands in the same buckets. This has contributed a lot to the increased number of rural cases, where cholera is associated with many myths and misconceptions.

Like Daniel, Maria Helena, 46, is happy that volunteers have witnessed behavior changes in the last few weeks since they started community mobilization. “The majority of the communities we visited are practicing good hygiene and sanitation. We can now see them washing their hands, boiling water for domestic use, burying trash in pits and bleaching their houses,” she says.

Maria, a mother of seven, also works as kindergarten teacher at a local school two days a week. She says volunteers organize themselves and prepare their own plans which they present to the provincial secretary general. Sometimes they work round the clock just to make sure that they cover a wider area.

“A lot of work still needs to be done here and we are willing to go the extra mile. We have to cover the entire province, making sure that people have the right information to avoid any future outbreaks.”

At the moment we need more vehicles in order to cover a bigger area and increase the number of volunteers in our province,” she adds.

Maria’s desire to improve living conditions in her community has not been affected by these challenges as she is still determined to go the extra mile.

“As long as I can still breathe, I will still be a volunteer and share the knowledge that I have accumulated over the years to the young generation.

I hope that people will continue the Red Cross work in my area even after I die,” she concludes.




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