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EBOLA: RIGHT COMMUNICATION, RIGHT ATTITUDE CAN CONTAIN IT

OCTOBER 22, 2014 By Joseph Fomolu (E-mail: josephfomolu@yahoo.com)

Communication is the key to the existence of human beings on earth. Everything human beings do hinges on communication. It is the process of exchanging or sharing information with somebody or a group of people in order to create an understanding. That is why a good communicator hardly uses big or technical words when talking to somebody. A good communicator knows the words to use when talking to primary school pupils, and the words to use when talking to university students or talking to a group of market women from my village, Serabu Bakoi, for instance.

The purpose of communication is to inform, receive a message, influence and to initiate an action. Thus, to say you have communicated, you must have achieved one or all of these: inform, receive, influence or initiate action.

Attitude, on the other hand, is a complex or mental state involving beliefs and feelings and values and disposition to act in certain ways. For instance, I have the attitude to always clean my house because I care for my health and would also not want a visitor to come and find dirt in my house. Some people have the attitude of not ironing their clothes before they leave the house. Others have the attitude of stealing whenever they have the opportunity to handle money. Some drivers have the attitude of driving recklessly; others smoke while driving. And so on…

RIGHT COMMUNICATION, RIGHT ATTITUDE CAN CONTAIN EBOLA

Ebola may have taken us by surprise or did not take us by surprise. It took us by surprise because our medical personnel may not have included it in their curricula. It did not take us by surprise because it started in Guinea. Therefore, what type of communication was disseminated? What was the attitude of Sierra Leoneans to contain it? Were the correct messages disseminated? Were the right attitudes displayed to contain it?

Proper evaluation of these questions is necessary to help in containing the Ebola virus. Ebola is an unknown disease to medical personnel in Sierra Leone. But division of labour is essential in tackling it. Let us leave the treatment of suspected Ebola patients to medical personnel and leave the aspect of disseminating messages about Ebola to the experts and those who will complement their efforts, like influencers. That is, those who first receive a message from the media and pass that message to others who are yet to receive it.

WHAT IS THE RIGHT COMMUNICATION AND RIGHT ATTITUDE TO CONTAIN EBOLA?

The right communication must be aimed at achieving the goals of informing, sending a message that will influence people to initiate the right action to prevent Ebola. Message on what is Ebola; its origin, symptoms and need to go to hospital immediately if somebody starts to display any of the Ebola symptoms.

The right message on Ebola should be: A severe and often fatal disease in human beings and non-human beings that is caused by the Ebola virus that has symptoms of high fever and severe internal bleeding. It can be spread from person to person.

These messages must be disseminated in all the local languages of Sierra Leone and should reach every house or compound by radio, television, newspaper, brochures or fliers of an Ebola patient who contracts the disease, those who have died from it and those who have survived it. The messages must create confidence in the Ebola patient that he/she can be cured; that Ebola will not kill him/her. Messages of prevention must take precedence over messages of symptoms. For instance, messages of Avoid Body Contact and pictures of some of those who have died of Ebola should be pasted in all homes.

I talked earlier about division of labour. Landlords/landladies, chiefs, Members of Parliament, NGOs, religious people, pressure groups, and the mass media must all be involved in disseminating information about the Ebola disease. The messages they disseminate will compel an Ebola suspected patient to rush to the hospital where medical personnel will be waiting to save his/her life.

Government must provide the necessary materials for the treatment of Ebola, including making available the necessary motivation for health workers to have the passion to treat Ebola patients.

RIGHT ATTITUDE

A law has already been passed for defaulters habouring Ebola suspected patients. However, how many people have been prosecuted so far? I am asking this question because the infection case continues to increase rather than waning. May be because nobody has been prosecuted so far for violating this Ebola law, which is why some people are still sojourning Ebola infected persons.

The new negative attitude of throwing dead bodies on the streets is also a concern. Who are those throwing the dead into the streets? Aren’t they too infected already? What is police patrol doing to stop this new attitude that is a hindrance to containing Ebola so soon?

Look at personal hygiene for instance; something I have been taught since I was in primary school in the early 70s. I was taught in Physical and Health Education (one of the subjects) that I have to bath with soap, wash my hands any time I use the toilet, comb my hair, cut my finger nails, and above all the difference between pure and impure water; also to brush my teeth, and wash face daily, etc. My attitude has been to practice till today what I have been taught in primary school.

Unfortunately, even when Ebola has come to resurrect personal hygiene in the lives of people, they are still practicing the attitude of ‘I don’t care’. Besides the negligence of personal hygiene, some people are still to adhere to Avoid Body Contact (ABC). I travelled with a Government bus from Bo to Freetown on 13 October. A lady who was sitting at the back of where I was sitting (#15) moved from her seat to #16 where the passenger who was sitting beside me from Bo had sat after dropping at Four Mile. The lady left her seat, not to sit alone, but to push me with her buttocks; pressing hers on mine. I whispered to myself, ‘does this lady know about ABC?’ She was not even aware of what she was doing to me, even when she dropped at Ferry Junction.

This type of behaviour is causing the spread of Ebola. People are taking the Ebola precautionary messages with a pinch of salt or they do not know about the gravity of Ebola on the human resource of Sierra Leone or the impact of the disease on Sierra Leone’s economy.

That is why some infected Ebola people are now moving with the Ebola virus from Waterloo and other infected areas to areas where the disease is scarce. On arrival, they hugged their relatives whom they instantly pass the virus to.

ROLE OF NERC

I think the National Ebola Response Committee (NERC) is aware of the daunting task of targeting the attitude, behaviour, knowledge and beliefs of Sierra Leoneans to contain the Ebola virus. These four cannot be done overnight, in a day or month. It is daunting because the messages on Ebola are targeting Sierra Leoneans of diverse backgrounds – disciplined and indiscipline, knowledgeable and unknowledgeable, rich and poor.

Sierra Leone is getting international support to contain Ebola. However, there is need to exhibit the right attitude, the right behaviour, the right knowledge and right beliefs to contain Ebola. Therefore the right communication is essential to drive this scourge away from Sierra Leone.

To achieve this, the right personnel must be involved in this exercise. For instance, SLBC must be involved with loud hailers on vehicles that cruise every village, town and city in Sierra Leone with the correct messages on Ebola in all local languages. In addition, loud hailers on Ebola messages must be put at all strategic points in villages, towns and cities across Sierra Leone. The messages will be on for twenty-four hours until Sierra Leone is rid of Ebola.

Also, drivers of all commercial vehicles, including okada riders, must all have thermometers to test the temperatures of their passengers before they mount an okada or board a vehicle to any destination.

If possible, government should put CCTV in our towns and cities to catch those who throw dead Ebola bodies in the night.