Geneva/Dakar — As the Ebola-related death toll rises above 500 in West Africa, UNICEF and its partners are expanding their activities across the region to halt the spread of the disease by combating rumours, fears and misconceptions.
"Rumours and denial are fueling the spread of Ebola and putting even more lives at risk," said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. "Some people still deny that the disease is real. Others believe that it doesn't have to be treated."
With more than 850 cases reported in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone by the World Health Organization (WHO), this first-ever Ebola outbreak in West Africa has become a major regional threat, unprecedented in duration and in scale. Widespread misconception, resistance, denial and occasional hostility in some communities are considerably complicating the humanitarian response to contain the outbreak.
"The response goes beyond medical care," Fontaine said. "If we are to break the chain of Ebola transmission, it is crucial to combat the fear surrounding it and earn the trust of communities. We have to knock on every door, visit every market and spread the word in every church and every mosque. To do so, we urgently need more people, more funds, more partners."
Last week in Accra, WHO convened governments from across West Africa, non-governmental organizations, regional inter-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies to agree on a set of joint priority actions for the first time since the beginning of the Ebola crisis.
In response, UNICEF is stepping up its efforts across seven countries - Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Mali and Gambia - to prevent further spread of the virus, through mobile messaging and ongoing TV, radio and print mass traditional and non-traditional communication campaigns. Since the outbreak was declared, UNICEF and its partners have reached at least 5.5 million people in West Africa.
In Liberia, for example, two pop songs produced by local group Crusaders for Peace, and "HIPCO" artists- Deng, SoulFresh and FA with support from UNICEF on how to prevent the spread of Ebola are being aired on national and community radio stations across the country.
Together with its network of partners, including government authorities, WHO, Red Cross Societies and local organizations, UNICEF also supports door-to-door activities. Prevention efforts have been made to sensitize more communities in affected areas, including with the involvement of traditional and religious authorities as key allies.
In Guinea and Liberia, UNICEF and its partners have also become the main provider of chlorine and soap with more than 2 million bars of soaps and over 600,000 bottles of chlorine distributed in households, health centers and schools since April. In addition, UNICEF teams in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire have also been put on alert.
To further ramp up its efforts, UNICEF immediately requests US$ 2.6 million for six countries. This funding gap is very likely to increase as national response plans in several countries are being revised to cope with the additional number of cases and to step up prevention efforts.
In Liberia and Sierra Leone where the Ministry of Health and World Health Organization play a leading role in the surveillance and contact tracing, UNICEF is also involved in mass social mobilization efforts and training of community health workers who are usually the first line of contact with cases of Ebola in the affected districts.
Ebola is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected animals or people. The severe, often fatal illness can be controlled through the use of recommended protective measures in clinics and hospitals, at community gatherings, or at home. Clear, timely information about the virus and prevention methods is vital. The movement of population across the borders is an aggravating factor that fueled the spread of the disease from one country to another.
In Liberia, UNICEF has supported the production of two pop songs by Crusaders for Peace, and "HIPCO" artistes- Deng, SoulFresh and FA on how to prevent the spread of Ebola which are presently being aired on national and community radio stations across the country.