The 2014 Ebola outbreak actually began in March of that year, but the inability of the administration at the time to employ the necessary mechanism to create awareness on preventive measures and provide personal protective equipment led to the death of thousands of Liberians including nurses and doctors.
People continued with their traditional practices of handshakes, hugging, touching corpses and in extreme cases washing their bodies with water used to bath a religious cleric. Health Authorities have declared Montserrado and Margibi Counties as ‘Most affected” areas now.
With this memory still living with survivors and the unaffected today, a former Traditional Communicator for Community Outreach of the out-gone United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), Sabato Neufville, is calling for immediate commencement of mass sensitization and awareness on the Coronavirus disease that is claiming thousands of lives in the world.
Liberia has so far recorded three confirmed cases, and the virus is raging around the world especially in Italy, the United States and some Asian countries. The latest BBC report says confirmed cases in Africa have exceeded one thousand.
Mr. Neufville says counting on the experience in 2014 where many people lived with denial till the Ebola epidemic exacerbated, it is very important now that the government increases awareness and sensitization in rural areas in the local languages to get the people to understand and heed to health protocols that have been put in place by the health authorities.
As a former UNMIL Information Associate with Community Unit, Neufville has voluntarily begun without a request from the government, and he is also seeking support to move into the rural areas with awareness and sensitization.
Speaking with the Daily Observer, Sabato said he is in full gear as a community outreach sensitization and awareness expert who had worked with traditional groups.
“I am happy to share my experiences of how we used traditional groups of communicators to provide awareness on the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Liberia,” Mr. Neufville proprietor of the Kingsley Lington Academy said.
The former UNMIL community mobilizer says he worries more for Liberians in the rural areas who have little or no knowledge about the virus, “and they need to be educated on its signs and symptoms, and how to prevent themselves from being infected.”
Furthermore, he stressed: “Those in Monrovia and other big cities in the country have access to social media, radio, television and the newspapers to get their information on the virus. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same is for people in rural Liberia and even in densely populated and slum communities in the city.”
He maintained that Liberians need not fear or panic, but to get the right information on health protocols to be on the safe side.
“In 2014, I was involved in mobilizing popular Liberian musicians to produce the Ebola prevention music album with songs in different dialects. I also worked with one of Liberia’s foremost comedians, Georgio Boutini, to produce a regular radio program on UNMIL Radio that educated Liberians on the virus. Also, we produced flyers, posters, and billboards with Ebola messages,” Neufville stressed.
Asked why he would want to volunteer to fight against a potential coronavirus attack on Liberia, Mr. Neufville said: “Reaching out to grassroots communities to effect behavioral change or to address fears and rumors is something I have been doing since 2004. I worked with UNMIL in getting former combatants to disarm and join the DDR process. I also traveled throughout the country in 2005, educating Liberians on the need to vote and to allow for a violence-free election. In 2016, when UNMIL was planning its drawdown, I was put in charge of the peace caravan that visited all the fifteen counties encouraging Liberia’s to take over the security responsibility of their country.”
He says the skills he gained with UNMIL in planning and organizing social mobilization and campaigns are what he hopes to give back to Liberia in the fight against the Coronavirus.
“My team and l can bigly help to spread the messages in the 15 counties about the preventive methods if we are hired,” Sabato said.
Sabato’s quest for sensitization and awareness in rural areas comes not only at the time when the virus is desperately spreading across the world; it is also at the time when the World Bank has promised to provide US$15 million to fight the disease, and one of the measures to spend on is sensitization and awareness