UNICEF has deployed a 12 member- team to Lofa County, where fears and misconceptions surrounding the deadly Ebola virus risk hampering Government led efforts to stop its spread.
The team will work across the county and directly engage with local communities to ensure families fully understand how they can keep safe from the disease, and what to do if they fall sick.
As of today, 27 suspected, probable and confirmed Ebola cases and 13 related deaths, including women and children, have been reported in Liberia. Six cases have been confirmed.
While concerted Government led efforts are helping to keep the number of new suspected cases down, UNICEF is concerned that confusion and denial of the threat Ebola poses, in some communities, could hamper the national prevention response.
"The Liberian Government, with support from partners, has done an excellent job getting the word out on Ebola," says UNICEF Liberia Country Representative Sheldon Yett.
"But in a country where the communications infrastructure is weak and illiteracy is high, media outreach must be complimented by direct community dialogue and engagement.
This is especially important in Lofa, where the highest number of suspected and confirmed Ebola cases have been reported."
To address this, UNICEF dispatched two field coordinators and a 10 person team specialized in community engagement to work in Foya, the district where Ebola first appeared in Liberia, as well as in Voinjama, Zorzor and Kolahun districts.
The key message of the efforts is "Protect yourself, protect your family and protect your community: Let's stop the spread of Ebola together".
The teams will work with schools, churches, mosques and marketplaces; and will liaise with traditional leaders, healers and other pivotal community members. The idea is to empower individual Liberians with the knowledge, resources and health facility contacts to keep Ebola from ravaging their communities.
"Schools are especially important to our joint efforts in Lofa since schools are one of the most direct venues through which we can reach children," said Mr. Yett. "This and our other outreach efforts will be supported through the distribution of specifically developed communications materials."
In addition to these efforts, UNICEF yesterday also air-lifted a new batch of urgently needed supplies of chlorine, plastic tarpaulins, sprayers and other materials to Médecin Sans Frontière, which is providing support for emergency health services at the isolation unit in Foya Hospital, Lofa County. Lack of proper isolation facilities has been a major concern for the Government and its partners, so this support was absolutely crucial to sustain ongoing efforts in Lofa to provide patients with needed care and treatment.