As the Ebola-related death toll rises above 500 in West Africa, UNICEF and its partners are expanding their activities across the region to halt the spread of the disease by combating rumors, fears and misconceptions.
“Rumors and denial are fueling the spread of Ebola and putting even more lives at risk,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “Some people still deny that the disease is real. Others believe that it doesn’t have to be treated.”
With more than 850 cases reported in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone by the World Health Organization (WHO), this first-ever Ebola outbreak in West Africa has become a major regional threat, unprecedented in duration and in scale. Widespread misconception, resistance, denial and occasional hostility in some communities are considerably complicating the humanitarian response to contain the outbreak.
“The response goes beyond medical care,” Fontaine said. “If we are to break the chain of Ebola transmission, it is crucial to combat the fear surrounding it and earn the trust of communities. We have to knock on every door, visit every market and spread the word in every church and every mosque. To do so, we urgently need more people, more funds, and more partners.”
Last week in Accra, WHO convened governments from across West Africa, non-governmental organizations, regional inter-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies to agree on a set of joint priority actions for the first time since the beginning of the Ebola crisis.
In response, UNICEF is stepping up its efforts across seven countries – Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Mali and Gambia – to prevent further spread of the virus, through mobile messaging and ongoing TV, radio and print mass traditional and non-traditional communication campaigns. Since the outbreak was declared, UNICEF and its partners have reached at least 5.5 million people in West Africa.
In Liberia, for example, two pop songs produced by local group Crusaders for Peace, and “HIPCO” artists- Deng, Soul Fresh and FA with support from UNICEF on how to prevent the spread of Ebola are being aired on national and community radio stations across the country.
Together with its network of partners, including government authorities, WHO, Red Cross Societies and local organizations, UNICEF also supports door-to-door activities. Prevention efforts have been made to sensitize more communities in affected areas, including with the involvement of traditional and religious authorities as key allies.
In Guinea and Liberia, UNICEF and its partners have also become the main providers of chlorine and soap with more than 2 million bars of soaps and over 600,000 bottles of chlorine distributed in
Households, health centers, and schools since April.
In addition, UNICEF teams in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire have also been put on alert.
To further ramp up its efforts, UNICEF immediately requests US$ 2.6 million for six countries. This funding gap is very likely to increase as national response plans in several countries are being revised to cope with the additional number of cases and to step up prevention efforts.