Ebola outbreaks in West Africa have been mounting steadily over the last several months and containment requires the global community to band together in cooperation to see that the infected get proper treatment. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced on Sept. 5 that he was setting a goal to wipe out the epidemic in under nine months. He aims to prevent it from spreading to other countries. However, he cautioned that the only way to achieve this goal is if citizens in the affected areas and around the world marshal all their resources and efforts toward providing relief for those stricken with the Ebola virus.
Ban’s statement echoes the assertion of the World Health Organization (WHO) in May 2014 that universal involvement in the epidemic’s relief efforts is the key to the solution. Containment of the Ebola virus requires scrupulous cooperation with sanitation and hygiene measures to prevent the disease from spreading to the surrounding community. The virus spreads by bodily fluid. Therefore, healthcare workers must take careful measures to prevent fluid contact and avoid infecting themselves and others.
The WHO and the Guinean Red Cross did targeted outreach to districts and communities early on in the outbreak. They sought to stave off the wave of fear and misinformation that prevents the infected and their families from seeking proper medical treatment, minimizing the risk to others. Workers engaged local people in dialogue to find out what they know about the disease, corrected any misconceptions and answered questions.
It can be a challenge in poverty-stricken areas where people do not read and write to explain the facts to them in a manner they can understand. However, Red Cross volunteers are patient, going house to house and speaking in simple terms in the villagers’ native languages. The people of Guinea admire the Red Cross and their work. As a result, people are more willing to listen respectfully and trust that they are being given accurate and truthful information.
In addition to disseminating information to the residents, the volunteers handed out soap and chlorine to help improve sanitation at home. Furthermore, they raised their voices via megaphone in busy public areas such as marketplaces and bus stations to make sure the word went out far and wide about how to protect themselves from the Ebola infection. TV and radio stations broadcast the prevention messages in seven languages during local news telecasts in both urban and rural areas. Civil societies organized roundtables and fundraisers. Schools and churches joined the effort as well.
These direct approaches worked well to dispel rumor-based fears that are common in the poorer areas of the country. Dr. Tata Gakou, Health Department chief in the Guinean town of Conakry, emphasizes that many people view the media with suspicion. Therefore, the one-on-one contact with a representative of a trusted organization can make people sit up and pay attention. They come away with a better understanding of the importance of bringing their sick family members in for good medical care rather than hiding them away.
Ban’s announcement reinforced the message behind the WHO and Red Cross’ experiences in Guinea, urging the international community to take up a grass-roots campaign in a cooperative effort to raise $600 million for the supplies required to contain the West African Ebola epidemic. He asserts that the virus is growing faster than the relief efforts. 3,500 suspected or confirmed cases have been reported, more than 1,900 of which have ended in death since the outbreak began in March. Ban issued a plea for the global community to come to the rescue of the suffering third world nations stricken with this deadly virus. With community contributions of relief workers, medical supplies and equipment, cash and food, Ban believes that Ebola can be stopped within six to nine months, ending the meltdown of the social and economic forces surrounding this public health catastrophe.
By Tamara Christine Van Hooser