Strong community engagement, activism key to defeating Ebola in West Africa – UN official

13 October 2014

Community engagement and activism are critical in Sierra Leone’s ongoing battle against the spread of Ebola, a United Nations official declared today, adding that only with the support of the local population could the country and the wider region of West Africa defeat the economic and health crises caused by the deadly virus.

“What we are seeing here, in Freetown, is an incredible spirit of self-reliance that is winning hearts and minds in the fight against this devastating disease,” said Magdy Martínez-Solimán, Director of Policy at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as he and other UN development officials completed their visit to Sierra Leone’s capital.

“That effort needs urgent support and a huge scale-up to end the crisis,” he added.

Located in the heart of West Africa, Sierra Leone has found itself at the epicentre of the Ebola outbreak, registering nearly 1,000 deaths from the virus and 2,950 cases, according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO).

Along with the human health impact caused by disease, Ebola has also greatly threatened the local economies of the affected countries. In Sierra Leone, for instance, one of the most visible consequences of the outbreak has been the closure of nearly all bars, restaurants and nightclubs in the nation’s capital. As a result, the country’s largest brewery has scaled down operations, resulting in the termination of some 24,000 jobs within the supply chain – a small portion of the overall job losses expected due to the crisis.

Following his visit with 200 UNDP-sponsored volunteers based in Freetown’s poor Mabella district, Mr. Martínez-Solimán noted that a number of community initiatives had already reached out to some 500,000 people.

In one instance, UNDP was working with a national NGO to support 45 centres for disabled people across the country, assisting women and men with a wide range of disabilities to print braille leaflets, sing messages to the visually impaired and fighting stigma. At the same time, the UN agency was also collaborating with 1,000 motorcycle taxi drivers to distribute Ebola hygiene kits and educate customers how to avoid contracting the disease.

“Communities are strongly engaged and we are working with them and national authorities actively to strengthen the response but also reintegrate survivors, build back better and ultimately recover and improve livelihoods. We will end this crisis,” he affirmed.

In its most recent situation report on the disease, the WHO, which is leading the wider UN response, reported 8,376 cases and 4,024 deaths from Ebola based on information provided by the Ministries of Health of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. The agency notes that the upward epidemic trend continues in Sierra Leone and most probably also in Liberia. By contrast, the situation in Guinea appears to be more stable, though, in the context of an Ebola outbreak, a stable pattern of transmission is still of a very grave concern, and could change quickly.


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