To Help Stop Ebola Sierra Leone Red Cross works with Citizen Radio

Publicado: 6 febrero 2015 18:46 CET

Catherine Kane is a senior communications officer for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Based in Geneva, she was recently deployed to Sierra Leone to support beneficiary communications initiatives as part of the Red Cross response to the ongoing Ebola outbreak.

The Ebola virus disease was on the rise in the Kono district of Sierra Leone. As many around the world celebrated Christmas and prepared for the new year, the number of cases and deaths continues to increase daily. Many people in this district get their information from Citizen radio, the local channel. On the newly-established Red Cross Hour tonight, a resident of Bumpeh, a hard-hit village 20 kilometres from the mining centre of Koindu texted, “We are suffering greatly.”

The explosion of Ebola has everyone concerned, both community members and local and national leaders. Ebola is a weak virus on its own. Without a host, it can be killed with soap, chlorine solution and even by being exposed to the sun for a period of time. As local officials, Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations fan out into communities to fight Ebola, workers from the Kono branch of the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society, along with a doctor from the Ministry of Health, took to the airwaves.

I wish you could have heard Dr. Songoe, a tall bespectacled young man who took a call about an emergency before giving us his attention after a full day of work. He shared the latest data and the trends he and the District Emergency Response Centre are observing. Praising the work of the Red Cross and other partners, he said that community members must start listening to the teams that are coming to their villages, and respecting the workers who are trying to help. Speaking in the local Krio dialect, he was articulate, passionate and wise.

Joining him, Kono branch safe and dignified burials officer Sahr B. Konghor, with his dapper newsboy cap, picked up the doctor’s message. He told listeners how to protect their homes. This means washing hands frequently, not touching other people, not keeping sick people in their houses, and calling the hotline or their local chief if someone dies and had symptoms of Ebola. After a case of Ebola is discovered, a team of contact tracers comes to the community daily for 21 days to check if anyone else has symptoms of the disease. “Sometimes people run away from these teams or say they are feeling fine. And this puts the person and everyone they touch in danger,” he said.

“Earlier this week, four young men from one household came into our triage centre in a single day after another family member had Ebola. All of them were showing symptoms. Quickly calling for help or bringing a sick person in for care can prevent this kind of transmission” Mr Kongor said. And the same is true for people who die. Although it seems like a sign of caring to wrap the body or wash it, community members must call for help. The Red Cross and partners have safe and dignified burial teams to do this dangerous work.

Khombo Morsay, a wiry young man with speaking brown eyes, is a member of one of these teams. The Ebola virus is strongest in the bodily fluids of the recently deceased. Asked why he does this work, even though he is shunned by friends, and his family has demanded that he find another place to live, he said, “We work in partnership for humanity. We do it to keep our community safe. With the work of all partners and you, we will put a stop to Ebola in this country.”

The radio host’s phone was flooded with texts during the call-in portion of the show. This is a critical part of community engagement. When callers ask questions, the team can learn what information is not clear and what new rumours are circulating. This dialogue helps mutual understanding and is an invaluable part of the fight against Ebola. Fielding questions adeptly, the panelists clarified misconceptions and offered more guidance and perspective. Mr Kongor in closing said, “If all the homes in Sierra Leone rise together – not keeping sick persons, calling for burial, washing hands – if we all do these things, the Ebola virus will drop. We will free our homes, and we will make our country free.”

About our work

Beneficiary communications and accountability is about giving people a voice and empowering them to participate in their own recovery. It connects humanitarian programming with vulnerable people by employing communications to provide and receive information.

Community engagement