Guinea: Enhanced community engagement to bring the Ebola outbreak to an end

Publicado: 14 mayo 2015 9:00 CET

By Moustapha Diallo, IFRC

As the sun rises in Forecariah, a town located in western Guinea, down three hours of bumpy roads from the capital, Conakry, people are already going about their daily business. Whether they are selling palm oil or arranging their mango stalls, at first glance, life seems normal. But this area is now at the center of the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, as the disease  ravages communities.

Contrary to downward trends in Ebola cases in other parts of the country, Forecariah and surrounding towns such as Boffa, Coyah, Kindia and Dubreka have seen an increasing number of Ebola cases since the beginning of the year.

“The virus has moved from the forest to Western Guinea and Forecariah is the district with the most intense transmission,” explains Dr Abdourahmane Bathily, the regional Ebola coordinator from the Ministry of Health based in Forecariah. “Community resistance is our biggest challenge here.”

In an effort to contain the virus, make inroads before the rainy season arrives, and to get to zero cases, the Guinean government declared a 45-day health emergency on 28 March in Forecariah, Coyah, Dubreka, Boffa, Kindia and Conakry. Red Cross volunteers have been helping with a door-to-door campaign to increase awareness and detect potential Ebola cases in Forecariah district, with more than 29,000 households visited and 23 suspected cases identified and tested. In Coyah, more than 57,000 households have been visited and similar initiatives are planned for the other targeted towns.

With their expertise and experience in beneficiary communication, Red Cross volunteers are playing an active role in these campaigns, to improve community engagement in these areas, which is key in the battle against Ebola.

Winning the fight at the community level

“The fight against Ebola can only be won at the community level,” explains Yvonne Kabagire, beneficiary communications delegate at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Guinea. “That is why we have strengthened our communication approach and are focusing more on interpersonal communication with communities.”

The new approach is seeing positive results. In Forecariah, where Red Cross volunteer Topou Lopu and a colleague were beaten by an angry mob while attempting to provide a safe and dignified burial for a woman suspected of dying from Ebola, attacks against Red Cross teams have dropped.

“Little by little, communities are understanding that the Red Cross is here to support them in times of sadness and in times of joy. We will not abandon them,” says Kabagire. “I’m very proud of our volunteers. This restored relationship with communities could not have taken place if the volunteers had given up the fight against rumours, misinformation and reticence.”

According to the World Health Organization a total of 22 confirmed cases were reported in the week to 26 April compared with 19 cases the previous week.

“In the fight against Ebola, you can move from 100 to 10 in terms of number of cases, but moving from 10 to zero is the most difficult,” says Dr Bathily.

And IFRC’s operations manager in Guinea, Oscar Llorente, has a warning.

“Complacency becomes our real enemy when cases start to decrease. We must stay vigilant and not let down our guard.”      

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has launched 16 Ebola-related operations totalling more than 126 million Swiss francs, aimed at reaching 39 million people. In Guinea, an emergency appeal of 28.5 million Swiss francs is currently 91 per cent funded. For more information on Red Cross Ebola operations, visit http://www.ifrcmedia.org/ebola/.




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