Monrovia — The Liberia-US Clinical Research Partnership, known as PREVAIL, has made some significant gains through its Social Mobilization and Community Engagement (SMC) activities during the year under review.
The social mobilization strategy was employed at the start of the PREVAIL research program in 2015 to promote the clinical research effort and enhance the enrollment of consenting participants.
Spreading accurate information and messages to targeted communities, especially in hard-to-reach areas, were some of the highpoints of their activities during 2017.
The year saw off the launch of three research studies; PREVAIL 5, launched on April 2 is a joint vaccine Study within the Mano River Union basin and Mali; PREVAIL 6 is a Genomics study, which is investigating if genes impact how individuals respond to the Ebola Virus, and PREVAIL 7 is the study through which 24 Ebola survivors and 10 of their close contacts underwent successful cataract eye surgeries.
Other developments during the year in review were the publication of two study outcomes (the PREVAIL 1 Vaccine Study and the PREVAIL 2 Ebola treatment study with Zmapp) by the New England Journal of Medicine.
At MICAT press conferences, Drs. Moses Massaquoi and Fatorma Bolay, Principal Investigators of the respective studies, provided the outcomes of the studies.
With support from the NIH, members of the SMC team have presented papers and given talks at international scientific and health forums in London, Thailand, USA, Nigeria and Guinea
The SMC has been creative, committed and talented in articulating research information and messages to the various targeted communities.
This endeavor has attracted a great deal of support from various stakeholders.
More than 100 community engagement and advocacy meetings as well as quarterly forums were held in Montserrado, Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, Margibi and Grand Bassa Counties- benefitting more than 20,000 members of the public.
The SMC team consists of four pillars: Advocacy, Community Engagement, Communication, and Monitoring and Evaluation.
Consistent with its goals, the advocacy mobilized key community decision makers, opinion and political leaders as well as galvanized support for the implementation of PREVAIL research projects.
Among the participants were healthcare workers, legislators, community religious and traditional leaders, Ebola survivors and their close contacts, members of the Ebola burial teams among others.
The Community engagement program was implemented by the Liberia Crusaders for Peace headed by Liberia's Cultural Ambassador, Juli Endee.
Like the Advocacy Team, the Community Engagement team also carried out several outreach programs directed at the targeted population (sometimes at hard-to-reach communities through meetings and the utilization of community mobilizers and communicators.
Over 300 of these communicators and mobilizers, a large percentage of whom are Ebola survivors, serve as change agents to share information on participation in the various studies.
During quarterly stakeholders' meetings, the SMC team and study Principal Investigators provided updates on ongoing activities or results of the various studies.
SMC representatives--led by Mr. Barthalomew Wilson and Katy Cone include Amb. Juli Endee, Dr. Jestina Doe-Anderson, Mr. Joseph Boye-Cooper, Mr. Hassan Kiawu, Mr. Patrick Faley and Dr. Khalipha Bility.
Through community engagement meetings, thousands of community members have been informed and educated on the nature of the research, details of each research study, and the potential benefits of study participation.
"I'm so happy that I joined the study because I now know my health status."
"The good thing also is that PREVAIL checks on me through my tracker, and they remind me to go for my routine visits. This is something I haven't seen or heard in my entire life," a survivor in Margibi County noted.
The Communication pillar of the SMC, led by veteran broadcast journalist Hassan Kiawu, has been involved in organizing and facilitating media training on health sensitive reporting for hundreds of reporters in Montserrado, Western Liberia (Grand Cape Mount, Bomi and Gbarpolu Counties), and Margibi Counties.
These trainings, which were addressed by study research scientists and facilitated by high profile Liberian media experts, were intended to enhance the reporters' understanding of science communication and sharpen their skills in fact-checking, news gathering, interviewing and ethics.
"PREVAIL is the only institution that is providing such education to Liberian journalists to enhance their skills in health science reporting and provide regular updates on their activities," said Ellis Togba, Editor of the New Republic Newspaper.
He expressed the hope that other organizations will do likewise to shed light on their activities.
In addition, the communication team organized several radio talk shows, and Dr. Mosoka Fallah, Principal Investigator for the Ebola Natural History and the Genomic Studies also addressed the MICAT forum regularly.
The Monitoring and Evaluation Pillar also played a pivotal role during the year under review.
The pillar monitored and evaluated the messaging and outreach strategies with a joint review mechanism that incorporated community leaders, diverse community groups and government partners to ensure that output, impact and challenges of the SMC activities were identified, and changes instituted to address existing gaps.
As PREVAIL moves into 2018, there are plans to continue building Liberian clinical research capacity through education of Liberians in critical research areas and infrastructure development to include a state-of-the-art imaging center.