Information kiosks - a one stop shop for the prevention of Ebola and other outbreaks as Sierra Leone looks toward recovery

Published: 30 June 2015 14:00 CET

Lisa Pattison, IFRC

One community member passes by to pick up a packet of condoms, another stops to wash her hands with chlorinated water, while another studies the poster advising not to touch corpses because of the risk of Ebola. The bright red and white box structure is attracting a lot of attention and providing information, which is exactly its function.

With cases of Ebola still surfacing in Sierra Leone on a weekly basis, the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society has installed information kiosks  throughout the country to serve as a point of reference to communities. Each district has ten mobile kiosks strategically located at road sides, within slum areas, and at informal border crossings. 

Manning the kiosks are volunteers from the community who are trusted and recognized by their neighbours. They are able to engage passers-by in their local language and are aware of the culture and customs. It is this advantage that is key to imparting health guidance and information to people concerning not only Ebola, but other potential outbreak risks like measles and cholera.

“We are here, very visible and people can easily find us. When they come to us they recognize us and they can express themselves in their language which they often can’t do with other health care workers. I’m sure if we had these kiosks at the start of the outbreak, there would have been less denial, especially in this area,” says Anima Teresa Koroma, a Red Cross volunteer in Kambia district.

Anima understands the importance of being able to engage her community in northern Sierra Leone. It borders Guinea and is struggling to rid itself of the Ebola virus.  A kiosk has been set up at the informal border crossing in Mapotolon community in the Samu chiefdom where many people arrive  on foot or by boat from Guinea to visit family or go to the markets in Sierra Leone. “On the other side of the border, they speak Susa too and we share the same culture. These kiosks mean that we are educating people not only on this side of the border, but also the other,” explains Anima.

Setting up shop at informal border crossings

Mapotolon is one of 54 informal border crossings on the Kambia-Guinea border, of which 25 have been identified by the Red Cross as a priority area to increase its community engagement activities. With people crossing over from both hotspots in Guinea and Sierra Leone, the potential for new chains of transmission to occur is high. Consequently, a surge capacity of community outreach has seen the installation of 20 information kiosks throughout the district. Owing to the mobile structure of the kiosk, the structures can be moved and reassembled at new hotspots in the district to maximize its intended impact.

“The kiosks are easy to assemble and move. But we should also remember that communities suffer from other illnesses than Ebola, for example HIV/AIDS, and this is why we give out condoms and advice on sanitation, and the signs and symptoms of diseases like cholera. We need to remind people about other illnesses,” explains Saidu B. Kamara, the Red Cross social mobilization team leader in Kambia.

By employing its traditional community engagement strategies, the Red Cross is able to make its contribution to eradicating the Ebola virus in persistent hotspots by building trust with those who are not following the recommended steps such as not touching and practising traditional burials. The kiosks serve to act as a key prevention tool for other outbreaks such as cholera during the rainy season by providing information on sanitation. “Ebola is here and so are other diseases. We, as the Red Cross, have to help build knowledge and prevent the impact of other illnesses on our communities,” states Saidu.

Ensuring people less vulnerable to disease and are well placed to prevent and identify the symptoms of outbreaks beyond Ebola, such as cholera, is one of the key components of the revised emergency appeal recently launched by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Seeking 94.5 million Swiss francs, the appeal incorporates early recovery activities while maintaining a focus on ending the epidemic.