Chasing Ebola Out of Liberia: The Long Road to Zero
Richlue O. BURPHY
As we approach 12 months since Ebola first entered Liberia, let us not forget to recognize the thousands of heroes working across the country who have involved in fighting this terrible war.
As well as the health care workers, gCHVs and burial teams, thousands of social mobilizers working with different organizations in Liberia have been going out into communities to spread messages on Ebola. Mercy Corps for instance, through the USAID-funded Ebola Community Action Platform has some 15,000 Communicators working in about 3,000 communities in all fifteen counties.
On a daily basis, many encounter incredibly challenging situations but yet, with all this, they continue to reach out with commitment and passion to help share potentially lifesaving information, including in some of Liberia’s most remote and far-flung areas.
Some routes to communities are long and rocky and rarely paved, whilst others require journeys by raft or canoe. Some are simply inaccessible to vehicles. The only option to reach those villages is to walk for up to two days, through forests and wilderness, leaving family and loved ones behind as they go.
Particularly in the early stages of the outbreak, these difficulties were often coupled with stiff opposition from some communities. At times, community members refused entry, claiming that Ebola workers and health communicators are bringing the virus and poisoning their wells.
Mobilisers say things have changed in many parts of the country but they remain determined to reach even the most remote villages with critical messages, especially as the rainy season approaches. When they encounter opposition, they re-strategize, engaging leadership with dialogue and discussion, so as to ensure people know what to do and where to go should they or a family member become sick.
Cavalla Kunokudi is one hard to reach community in Maryland County in Liberia’s South-East and A. Wa-NyeboNeufville with the Women’s Action Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) is one of a very small number of mobilizers that reach there on a weekly basis. He says it is not an easy thing to do. “Social mobilization itself is hard. To do this work, you have to be strong and have a strong heart.”
To reach Cavalla Kunokudi, Wa-Nyebo has to ride a motorbike covering a distance of up to three hours; he then hides the bike in the bush and walks another two hours across hills, rivers and dilapidated bridges and shaky river crossings.
The Executive Director for the Rural Education Sponsorship Program: Enhancing Communities Together (RESPECT), ShethaKarmah applauds the efforts of all those local actors engaged in the fight against Ebola in Liberia. “I am supremely happy about the level of gains we are having against Ebola. And at RESPECT, we are excited about the efforts being put in the fight. We are very thankful to all those involved and we are convinced that their efforts will pay off.”
All over Liberia, mobilizers, partner organizations, community members and the Liberian government are in high anticipation of the day that Liberia will be declared Ebola-free. But there is no denying that, while Ebola is in the region, Liberians must remain on their guard, be better prepared, and never again let an outbreak spiral out of control as it did in 2014.
The road here has been hard gained, and there is still some way to go yet. But with the courage, commitment and unity of local organizations and international partners, government agencies and taskforces, healthcare workers and Mobilisers like Wa-Nyebo, we are now confident that this is a battle which can be won.
About the author
Richlue O. BURPHY is Digital Outreach and Communication Officer at Mercy Corps Liberia. He is working on the Ebola Community Action Program, a large social mobilization program, funded by USAID and developed by Mercy Corps and Population Services International, which has engaged over 70 community-oriented NGOs to support the Government-led Ebola response. You can read more via the ECAP website: www.ecapliberia.org