Aid group starts Ebola education drive in Liberia

Health workers in Liberian attempt to stop Ebola from spreading further. Picture: Getty
Health workers in Liberian attempt to stop Ebola from spreading further. Picture: Getty
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EDINBURGH aid charity Mercy Corps is leading the fight against Ebola after launching a mass public education campaign in Liberia.

The charity hopes to reach two million people with vital information in how to try to protect themselves against the deadly disease.

It will work with partners to train 1000 volunteers in the country who will mobilise 2500 community task forces, made up of 50,000 trusted community members.

Hand-washing stations will be put in high transmission areas along with using posters, community meetings and mass media to get the message across.

The charity is piloting a text system allowing anyone with a mobile phone to access information about Ebola free of charge – as well report incidents with 100,000 people expected to register.

Michael McKean, director of programmes, said filling a gap in community education on how to reduce transmission was key to containing and reducing the spread of Ebola.

“Our goal is to reach two million people over the next six months,” he said.

“By leveraging an extensive network of local and international organisations, Mercy Corps will mobilise trusted community leaders to promote public health messages that raise awareness of prevention practices and encourage changes in behaviour that will significantly reduce the transmission of Ebola nationwide.”

Crippled by poverty and still reeling from the effects of a devastating civil war, Liberia is ill-equipped to deal with the potential human catastrophe.

The latest figures from the United Nations World Health Organisation (WHO) put the death toll from the Ebola virus outbreak at 4447, with more than half of the dead from Liberia. The organisation, which has been criticised for responding too slowly to the epidemic, has said it is continuing to spread in the three worst-hit nations – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – and there could be between 5000 and 10,000 new cases a week by early December.

Previous information drives have struggled to get through because of language barriers and distrust, which some groups have said has perpetuated a belief in hard to reach communities that Ebola is a myth.

With infection rates doubling every 20 days, social mobilisation using local leaders is vital in the drive to bring the disease under control.

Mr McKean said the charity was working with Unicef, and WHO to ensure the safety of its staff.

He added: “Our staff in Liberia continues to follow precautionary measures as directed by the CDC and WHO to ensure the safety and health of our team members.

“Mercy Corps has worked in Liberia since 2002, and we remain committed to helping. Our thoughts are with the thousands of families impacted by this virus.”

‘Aid pledges not yet had any impact’

International pledges of deployments and aid for Africa’s Ebola-hit regions have not yet had any impact on the epidemic, a major medical charity says.

Christopher Stokes of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said the disease was still out of control.

He said it was “ridiculous” that his charity’s volunteers were bearing the brunt of care.

The disease has killed about 4500 people so far, mostly in West Africa.

MSF runs about 700 out of the 1000 beds available in treatment facilities Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Mr Stokes, who leads MSF’s Ebola response, said promises from the international community were encouraging, “but not having any significant impact on the epidemic.”

The concern came as the World Health Organisation announced that Senegal is now officially free of Ebola, as it has gone 42 days without any sign of the virus.