The Social Mobilization and Communications Team at the Liberia-US Clinical Research Partnership, PREVAIL, climaxed its month-long activities with the hosting of a week-long training in Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) in Montserrado County, according to a press release issued yesterday.
This study gathers information about what community members or respondents know, think and what they actually do so that they can support the PREVAC vaccine study through advocacy, communication, community engagement and M&E (monitoring and evaluation) activities in the community
KAP surveys identify knowledge gaps, socio-cultural practices, behavioral patterns that may facilitate understanding and action, as well as pose problems or create barriers for effective social mobilization efforts.
Before conducting the outreach, communicators, mobilizers and other participating trackers received training on various aspects of the survey. The aim of the exercise is also to identify factors influencing behavior that are not known to outsiders, reasons for prevailing attitudes, and how and why people practice certain health behaviors that can influence community participation in a vaccine study.
The Monitoring and Evaluation Pillar Lead at the PREVAIL SMC Team, Dr. Khalipha Bility, urged the communities to make honest inputs that will help the research identify those gaps and behavioral patterns that will enable the study team to find a solution.
The month of March also saw the SMC hosting a series of Advocacy and Community Engagement forums in various communities in Montserrado and Margibi counties. On the PREVAIL III, the Ebola Natural History Study, the Co-Lead of Social Mobilization and Communication, Barthalomew Wilson, and Advocacy Lead, Joseph Boye Cooper, spoke of the tremendous efforts being made by the study to find out the range of health problems survivors are faced with so that optimized solutions can be found.
Barthalomew further explained that it is an on-going in-depth study of Liberian Ebola survivors and their close contacts. He said with many survivors experiencing a range of health problems, it was important they joined the study to be examined to determine whether they are now free of the virus. They spoke of the availability of health care assistance for Ebola survivors through John Snow, Incorporated at some medical facilities while plans are underway by the survivors network to help many other health facilities to cater to survivors across the country. He stressed that PREVAIL only conducts examination and research to find out their health statuses, but does not treat them.
Both he and Cooper spoke of other sub-studies such as the eye, semen collection, neurology/lumber puncture and birth cohorts as some of the studies being conducted to find out if there are any residual or persistent virus in survivors. Cooper pointed out that since the intervention of PREVAIL through the launch of the birth cohorts in December 2015, miscarriages and still births, which were common occurrences among female survivors, are now things of the past; and urged pregnant survivors and close contacts to enroll in the birth cohorts, close contacts and semen sub-studies respectively.
The head of Community Engagement in the SMC, Amb. Juli Endee, has also encouraged survivors to join the PREVAIL. She said PREVAIL is in Liberia to help the country development vaccines and other help to tackle Ebola. She also said in so doing, PREVAIL has done a tremendous job by providing employment for over 350 Liberians in the medical and other disciplines, as well as hired over 300 communicators and mobilizers through the Liberia Crusaders for Peace.
She said PREVAIL also has state-of-the-art equipment that checks for many illnesses that Liberia does not have the capacity to do. Amb. Endee emphasized that such forums are important for Liberians to know the valuable contribution PREVAIL is making in public health.
Such sentiments were also expressed by Ambassador Endee and other speakers including the head of the National Ebola Survivors Network of Liberia, Patrick Faley, who made appearances in Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, Montserrado and Margibi counties on various rural radio networks.
The updates and statements by the key PREVAIL SMC team leaders set off a barrage of praise from the scores of people who attended the community engagement and advocacy events.
Ebola survivors also praised PREVAIL for the level of care being provided them, and expressed gratitude and pledged support for PREVAIL.
The vigorous social mobilization, advocacy and communications program carried out by trained PREVAIL staff has played a critical role in overcoming public perceptions about the PREVAIL study, recruiting trial volunteers and maintaining the excellent rates of the follow-ups in this study.
In all of these engagements, the PREVAIL SMC team urged the communities and survivors alike to take advantage of the research study to find out their health status. They stressed enrollments for close contact, birth cohorts and semen collection to find out if they are free from Ebola.
The advocacy team also interacted with community leaders and traditional midwives at various health facilities across the two counties to seek their cooperation in referring pregnant survivors to enroll in the birth cohorts study during their eighth month rather than after they deliver their babies. Referring them to the birth cohorts study, according to them, will help them deliver their babies safely and will be looked after for five years, just as the mother and the other survivors will be followed.
The communications team also organized a monthly refresher training program for the National Ebola Call Center aka “4455” as a way of providing the much needed information to the public through in-bound calls from the public seeking information.
Liberian health reporters also benefited from media training and interactive exchange forum intended to enhance their skills in science communication and health sensitive reporting. Over two separate days, training exercises were conducted for reporters in Margibi and Montserrado counties, which included top newspapers and other broadcast media outlets in Monrovia.
During the training, local community radio reporters were briefed on the ongoing Ebola Natural History Study and how to report on health related issues.
Hassan Kiawu, the Clinical Communications Manager for PREVAIL, told the journalists of the need to respect the privacy of patients particularly Ebola survivors when reporting on PREVAIL.
Speakers at the media training, including Attorney Phillip Wisseh, managing Editor of The Inquirer newspaper; Media Trainer Raymond Zarby of UNMIL Radio; and Daily Observer’s Editor Omari Jackson, urged journalists to check their facts before reporting. SMC Co-Leads, Barthalomew Wilson and Katie Cone, in separate remarks expressed appreciation to the media for highlighting PREVAIL’s activities in the media and called for closer cooperation with the media. For his part, Barthalomew urged the media to always check their facts and must never hesitate to contact PREVAIL for clarity. He said negative reporting has the potential of derailing gains made in clinical research and will not augur well for the research let alone for the country.
The training covered health sensitive reporting, ethics, facts checking and the impact of negative reporting in clinical research.
The head of the National Ebola Survivors network of Liberia, Patrick Farley, said in his presentation that Ebola survivors are not harmful as they cannot pass on Ebola to anyone. He called on the media to help end stigmatization of survivors in Liberia.