PERSONAL REFLECTIONS ON EBOLA AND ITS IMPACT ON OUR SOCIETY- (PART FOUR): A SEARCH FOR AN APPROPRIATE MESSAGING

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The focus of this fourth article of the series that is focused on the Ebola Virus Disease and its devastating impact on all of the Liberian society and the ongoing war to eradicate it and mitigate its impact is on finding an appropriate messaging to accelerate the defeat of it. What do we mean by an appropriate messaging? What kind of massages do we need to help us get everyone on board in the ongoing fight to kick Ebola out of Liberia and the sub-region? What kind of messages is not helpful? Why is messaging important for the fight to care for Ebola victims and to eradicate the virus? Let us explore in brief below. The third article on the need for an appropriate strategy for phase two of the war against Ebola observed the following points:

Most of the partners, if not all, in the fight against Ebola agree that what strategy or strategies we proffer must include taking the involvement of the community as key to bringing the rate of infection to zero. The government and its local and international partners should bring all of their expertise and resources to empower communities to achieve what the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has identified as: (1) safe burial: bury all dead bodies safely, (2) isolation of sick people: keep sick people away from others, (3) speedy and effective communication about cases and contacts, (4) Contact tracing: help find anyone who is suspected of being infected, and (5) quarantine of contacts and supply them with food and water: contacts must stay to one area. This and all the personal and communal preventive measures are what must be done. But how can we get them done?

There are lots of helps out there from the international and local partners. But one great need is the coordination of all the interventions: who is doing what, where and when.  Such a directory should be available by now. We must endeavor to respond to any outbreaks anywhere quickly starting with those who are already working there.

The free movement of people throughout the length and breadth of the country is a major concern, especially during this Christmas and elections time. At some point the government has to take the hard decision to let everyone stay where he/she is for three weeks. People have to stop moving from place to place and let homes and communities be checked. This approach is not popular and is very expensive but a radical problem requires a radical solution.

To undergird any strategy to eradicate Ebola is the right messaging. Messaging is absolutely vital to any attempts to persuade people to do something, especially if it involves asking them to change their mental attitude and behavior. Any kind of propaganda (whether it is a war of any kind, a political platform, a new policy, a marketing strategy, or any human endeavor that asks the voluntary involvement of other people) requires the right kind of messaging if it is to succeed. In fact, communication of which messaging is one kind, is a necessity for all who lead or influence others in one form or the other. Sometime the difference between success and failure depends on the kind of message one employs.

The fight against the deadly Ebola Virus Disease in Liberia has been helped or hampered by the messages used. For example, earlier on in the fight, out of ignorance and lack of experience in dealing with an emergency of the Ebola kind, people were told not to touch anyone who was sick and that Ebola had no cure and this message was not qualified. That led to some sick persons being abandoned and people suspected of having Ebola not wanting to go for any treatment and thus leading to their deaths! But as our understanding of the virus improved messaging included isolating the sick and caring for them while protecting the caregivers and that an early treatment could lead to a cure for some.

Phase two now requires clear, simple messaging around safe burials, isolation of the sick, speedy and effective communication about cases and contacts, contact tracing, and quarantine of suspected people and supplying them with food and other basic needs. The messages have to be unambiguous and consistent. All partners in the fight must synchronize their messages and get them across to all via radio stations (national and local), jingles, dramas, and reaching out to as many as possible on one on one basis. The Press Union of Liberia (PUL), Liberian Media Center (LMC) and other news outlets, both print and electronic, can play a crucial role in the dissemination of the massages. A clear message on Ebola and the war against it can change perception and behavior in the right direction. And the fight against Ebola desperately needs a behavioral change at the community and personal levels if it is to succeed.

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