Get-to-zero Ebola campaign underway in Sierra Leone

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30 Mar 2015

Get-to-zero Ebola campaign underway in Sierra Leone

With a largely successful three-day sit-at-home exercise, Sierra Leoneans are on a month-long social mobilization drive to bring Ebola figures to zero. Streets in most towns in the country, including in the capital Freetown, were empty over the weekend as social mobilizers and health workers moved around communities soliciting for grassroots support to beat the virus.

The Sierra Leone’s Crisis Manager for the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), Bintou Keita, said on the Independent Radio Network, in a programme simulcast by 41 radio stations that the goal of the current campaign was not just to bring Ebola transmission to zero but to sustain the zero.

“I congratulate districts that have achieved zero transmission. However, let me stress that it is really important that the whole of Sierra Leone is completely free of Ebola,” said Ms. Keita. She added that there was a sense of urgency because of imminent rains, which could complicate response efforts.

Freetown residents mostly stayed indoors. In Murray Town, west end of Freetown, Cecil Kabbah said that the community inhabitants had decided to rally themselves to observe practices, such as safe burials and reporting the sick, that can prevent Ebola spread.

“We have sensitized people in our community. We are making sure that toilets are cleaned and everyone is washing their hands. Also, we all know that if there is a sick person, we call 117 for ambulance,” noted Mr. Kabbah.

Authorities of the National Ebola Response Centre (NERC), which is responsible for coordinating Ebola response efforts, urged Sierra Leoneans to use the three days to reflect and mourn their loved ones, and to consider how they can support response efforts.

The non-government organization, Focus 1000, amalgamates messages from different religions to mobilize Sierra Leoneans. Around Aberdeen, Focus 1000 workers mounted a Public Address system on a pickup and blared Ebola messages. Some distributed leaflets while others conducted one-on-one sensitization.

“We have received very good response from the people. Generally, Sierra Leoneans believe religious people,” maintained Donald Theo Harding, the National secretary General, Christian Action Group, which is part of Focus 1000.

In Aberdeen village where there was an outbreak in February, residents took the stay-at-home very seriously. Samuel Stafford, a university student, said that Aberdeen villagers have put the February outbreak behind them and were now poised to ensure there was no more Ebola incident.

 “I know that we are all washing hands and doing the things that have to be done to avoid Ebola. But there is a need for messages to be intensified on social media such as Facebook and Twitter,” Mr. Stafford advised. Most Sierra Leoneans feel that the stay-at-home is necessary if only it will stop Ebola transmission.

Concerned about street children who couldn’t afford food items, the NGO Goal distributed food packets and water to these children in various parts of the city.

The current campaign will be successful, said Josephine Conteh, a social mobilizer who works for the NGO Health for All Coalition. “People are responding and everyone is realizing that Ebola is still very much with us. I believe we will get to zero transmission very soon.”

President Ernest Koroma, his Guinean counterpart, Alpha Konde, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and a representative of the Ivorian President in mid-February committed to intensify efforts to achieve zero transmission within 60 days.

For the first time since the Ebola outbreak, Sierra Leone actually recorded zero transmission on 19 March. Since then, there have been new transmissions although figures are mostly in single digits, indicating a downward trend and giving hopes of an imminent end to the epidemic.