SEPTEMBER 15, 2014
Commercial motorbike riders have started an intensive awareness raising campaign that seeks to reach between 150,000 and 200,000 people over a two-month period in Freetown after receiving training from the UN Development Programme (UNDP) last week in Freetown.
The commercial motorbike riders (also known as okada riders) are now engaging passengers and other vulnerable groups with Ebola prevention messages as well as positive messages of the survival rate of Ebola patients who have sought early medical help. These messages will help reduce the number of people who are hiding suspected cases of close family members.
UNDP Sierra Leone’s Adviser on Ebola response, Lionel Laurens, said that the organisation has heightened its direct response to the Ebola epidemic by targeting specific vulnerable groups and communities including people with disabilities, motorbike taxi riders and people living in slum areas.
Lionel Laurens said: “UNDP is contributing to national Ebola sensitization efforts, with a specific focus on vulnerable and excluded people and communities. Okada riders were identified as a particularly vulnerable group, because of the large number of people that they come in touch with on a daily basis.”
He added that although okada riders have already been targeted before for extensive sensitization, “they are not consistently applying safety measures. Messaging needs to be more customised to the targeted group. UNDP therefore enters into a dialogue to identify specific concerns and measures that are practical.”
There are between 50,000 and 80,000 okada riders in Freetown alone who provide a major means of transportation for ordinary citizens. Through UNDP support, an initial group of 25 riders received training on Ebola, focusing on specific messaging aiming to address the fear and myths that are fuelling new cases and driving infected people underground. The training focussed on the signs and symptoms of the disease, how the disease is and is not transmitted and how riders can protect themselves from the disease. This first training will be followed by series of other trainings that aim to cover the entire city and then the country, the UNDP said.
Emmanuel Kallon, Chairman of the Spur Loop Okada Union, a neighbourhood in the western part of Freetown, said he has about 200 members in his location who are now actively helping to disseminate information on prevention and the need for patients to seek early treatment.
“Since the training we have sensitized the riders and they are responding; they don’t allow body contact with passengers and passing on vital information to people. We are now part of the Ebola response,” Kallon said.
UNDP Programme Manager on Environment, Saskia Marijnissen, said UNDP’s engagement of commercial okada riders is only the first step in scaling up the organisation’s direct response to the Ebola epidemic. She said that UNDP is targeting mainly vulnerable people and communities including slum dwellers and people with disability.
“When the full programme is rolled out including engaging disaster management volunteers to undertake face-to-face and door-to-door sensitisation and dialogue in slums and other hard to reach areas, an estimated 300,000 to 350,000 will be reached with concrete prevention messages in the next three to six months,” UNDP Technical Adviser on Disaster Management said.