We are all products of our experience-which is a good reason to examine carefully the past experiences and present action of those communities who took matters into their own hands in the fight against Ebola Virus Disease.
Winning communities acknowledge that community organizers, change agents, opinion and community leaders played important roles in community health belief systems and health seeking behaviours of others. Most communities started as vigilante groups, setting up road blocks, placing hand washing buckets at strategic locations, conducting temperature screening and managing Ebola committees, transportation and isolations centers.
While health policies and established health practices are acknowledged and are an integral and valued part to the community, the media (particularly this medium) also played a critical role in the dissemination of valued health information and in providing unwritten community protocols for safety, health, education and basic hygienic necessities for the prevention and control of Ebola Virus Disease. (EVD)
We recognized that all that was necessary for EVD to flourish was for the community to do nothing. We take special note of the roles played by community health volunteers, vigilante groups and faith-based organizations like the Catholic Church in drafting the blueprint for community protocols.
Our community outreach education programmes at Messengers of Peace (MOP)-Liberia during the Ebola crisis were specifically designed to accommodate new materials. We were not only immersed in community based activities but involved in promoting programmes, policies and practices that increased cooperation, interaction and exchanges between communities-enabling all social groups to share their resources and support each other in the war against Ebola.
MOP-Liberia article in this column on -“It takes a village” and other Ebola prevention programmes were cited at different international arena for their significant contributions to community protocols in the fight against EVD.
Liberia, with more than four thousand Ebola deaths, has learned its lessons well. We need to document these best practices, having produced the most successful fight against Ebola. We also need to ensure that conditions in our schools and communities are as safe as possible. It takes just one hidden case of Ebola to reignite the fire.
Helping communities get back to their normal way of life is critical to ensuring that Liberia recovers from the Ebola crisis. Community health workers and leaders need to advocate for survivors, shelter and school for orphans and others who lost loved ones and incomes. Psychosocial support to affected and neighboring communities is important and more importantly is strict border control strategies.
Early recovery efforts in Liberia should establish how communities could practice careful hygiene by washing hands often with soap and water or hand sanitizer; avoid contact with blood and body fluids of an infected person, avoid funeral or burial rituals that require handling the body of someone who has died from Ebola and avoid contact with animals particularly bats, non human primates or raw bush meat. Government of Liberia should focus on protection of households through the distribution of disinfection kits and materials for contact tracing in various communities.
Other measures to be included in the protocols for safe community environments in post Ebola era should include guidance for contact tracing, early surveillance system before suspected cases appear and Ebola Disease Modeling (EDM) to assess the future scope of the epidemic.
With no single new cases of Ebola over the past week, we can proudly write that we are only weeks away from when (not if) Liberia would be declared “Ebola-free”. Until then and with an end in sight, we need to redouble our community action to stop and eradicate Ebola from our country. Support the “Ebola Educates” Campaign in kind through your stories or with your generous cash donation. Until next week, when we come to you with another article on: “Ebola Educates-Work Place Protocols”, Peace First, Peace above all else, May Peace prevail on earth.