Using a multi-faceted approach to stop the transmission of Ebola virus disease

تم النشر: 3 يوليه 2014 11:04 CET

By Moustapha Diallo, IFRC

This is the first time an Ebola virus disease outbreak has surfaced in Guinea, and it caught communities and health authorities unaware. People got sick and started dying. Families continued traditional practices of handling a body after death, not knowing they may have, unwittingly, been contributing to the spread of the disease.

“Some communities have a culture of washing dead bodies and as Ebola is only spread through direct contact with the bodily secretions from an infected or deceased person, many people died because they did not know what they were dealing with,” explains Aliou Boly, programme manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Guinea.

With support from IFRC, the Red Cross Society of Guinea, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and other partners including WHO, UNICEF and Médecins Sans Frontières, has put in place mitigation measures to contain the disease and to prevent it from becoming widespread. Interventions are focusing on working with communities in both affected and non-affected areas, to ensure they understand how to protect themselves from the Ebola virus disease and how to prevent the virus from spreading.

“There is still some resistance in villages in rural Gueckedou, such as Bafassa, Wassaya, Yomadou, Farakoro and Tolebengo,” says Dr Mamadi Keita, from the health department at the Red Cross Society of Guinea, who is the focal point for response operations against Ebola in Gueckedou.

Ignorance, superstition and rumours increase fear in these rural communities and present a challenge for Red Cross volunteers trying to educate people about the Ebola virus disease. People living here do not have any access to radio or television. Accessibility is also very difficult as the area is very remote and heavily forested.

People are asking many questions. Their grandparents used to eat bush meat without getting sick, and they wonder why its consumption now presents such a risk. They fear the product used by humanitarian actors to disinfect contaminated surfaces is actually a poison that spreads the disease and is the reason why they wear protective equipment. Rumours are persistent and some communities are still refusing humanitarian actors in their villages as they suspect them of carrying the virus. They refuse to admit the existence of Ebola, which is a new disease, and continue to bury their dead without taking adequate protective measures.

“Our efforts might be vain if we don’t establish a trust relationship with these resistant communities,” adds Dr Keita. “We are identifying and training some community leaders in order to involve them in our sensitization efforts and this has started to allay some of the fear and rumours."

The Red Cross Society of Guinea is also engaging people who contracted the virus and have since been cleared and discharged; people like Saa Sabas, an engineer agronomist in Gueckedou who now carries the nickname of anti-Ebola.

Two persons living in Tolebengo who were admitted to the isolation centre and were later discharged have also told their stories to their neighbours. As result, Tolebengo, which was one of the most resistant villages, is now accepting humanitarian agencies.

“The communities of Fassaba and Wassaya are still leary of us,” says Dr Keita. “We hope that with our strengthened communication approach, including the involvement of community leaders, and the use of plays, radio programmes, SMS, and mobile cinema, will help us break through their resistance.”

IFRC has launched an emergency appeal in Guinea to support the National Society in interventions aimed at preventing the further spread of the Ebola virus disease. Similar operations are being implemented in neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone after cases were confirmed there. The Red Cross is also proactively launching preventative operations in three west African countries (Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Senegal) at risk if the virus does continue to spread.