Since the first case of Ebola in May 2014, Sierra Leone has dealt with an outbreak of the deadly virus that has affected every facet and member of society in the West African country with just over six million citizens. An estimated 3000 people have died from the highly transmissible disease.
To combat the outbreak, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation set up a multi-stakeholder emergency taskforce with civil society and international organisations to monitor the situation and increase collaboration between development partners working to contain the spread of the virus.
Part of the taskforce is the “Ebola Emergency Response” project, an ongoing effort operated for the past nine months by the NGO, Youth Partnership for Peace and Development. Using an already established multi-stakeholder group, WASH-Net Sierra Leone, and building on the work done by them to combat a cholera outbreak in 2012, the group brings together civil society organisations already working in social areas such as health and child welfare with government agencies, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in particular, and is funded by the UN Development Programme.
The project is focused on mobilising citizens to adopt practices that will help protect themselves and their families from contracting Ebola, the same practices that are necessary to help slow, and eventually stop, the spread of the deadly disease that has a 70% death rate according to the World Health Organisation. This work is especially crucial in the country where a high mistrust of the health system, due in part to insufficient space for patients in hospitals at the onset of this Ebola outbreak, is hampering efforts to help get more people suffering from Ebola into health facilities.
The members of WASH-Net are working on community education through awareness raising campaigns in the Western area of Sierra Leone, the hardest hit region and location of the fastest spread of the disease.
Working with local government structures, such as the newly established District Ebola Committees, and also with local tribal leaders, the work focuses on education about the virus to reduce misinformation that has led to uninformed decision making by people, while also increase understanding about Ebola survivors who return to their communities in order to reduce the discrimination they can face.
The project has translated Ebola prevention materials into 10 local languages and distributed these in villages and remote communities, along with posters and other advertising materials to increase awareness about Ebola facts.
WASH-Net partners have also gone door-to-door to nearly 9,000 homes in Western Sierra Leone and held street theatre performances and radio broadcasts in the districts with the highest number of Ebola cases.
To bolster this information, the project has also distributed bucket handwashing stations with anti-bacterial soap.
There’s now better coordination among government, development partners and civil society as non-state actors in the current response strategy. This to a very large extent has helped in saving lives and also providing the needed social protection for quarantined households and communities.
Response to an emergency is a time when partnership is most critical to maximize resources and impact. This case shows how the Busan principles of country ownership of development with a strong focus on results and inclusive partnerships that are open to all are necessary in the ongoing fight to eradicate Ebola in Sierra Leone.