SEPTEMBER 9, 2014 By Mohamed Massaquoi
Former Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, now head of the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) for the fight against Ebola, has publicly apologised for what he referred to as “misinformation” regarding the nationwide proposed “House-to-House Family Sensitization Campaign”, which has been slated for 19 to 21 September.
Though Steven Gaojia could not openly name individuals or groups whom he claimed have been grossly misinforming Sierra Leoneans about the campaign, yet he expressed frustrations that there have been discrepancies even among members of the EOC about the campaign, stressing that “the strategy is not a military exercise neither undue economic hardship imposed on the people, but rather to reach out to 100% of households with correct information on Ebola, increase community acceptance of Ebola affected persons especially children, promote hand washing with soap at households, and build public confidence”, among others.
Reports have it that the Minister of Information and Communications, Alhaji Alpha Kanu and other government functionaries have been propagating a proposed government plan of closing down the entire country for a couple of days so that health workers can engage communities on issues relating to Ebola. This development however prompted a joint emergency press conference by the Ministry of Information and members of the EOC.
But the Information Minister said his ministry was exonerated by the EOC boss despite the latter making public apologies for “misinformation” about the proposed campaign.
“I feel elated by hosting this press conference. This is what I have been talking about, people should accept the fact that Ebola is here. It is only with our collective effort that we will fight Ebola in the country,” said Mr. Kanu. “In the Ebola fight, 10% is medical and 90% is social mobilization.”
But Gaojia emphasized that the exercise will involve trained teams including health workers, community volunteers and NGOs/CBOs who will move from house to house to disseminate information on the Ebola disease and enlist families/communities and support their participation in the process.
“We want to apologise to all of you for the way the campaign has been going. This campaign is about installing neighbourhood watch structures at community level,” the EOC head told newsmen. “I want Sierra Leoneans to know that from the 18th September the campaign will kick-off with a presidential speech to the nation providing an overview of the Ebola situation and government’s response.”
He said the president will officially declare a sit at home campaign for family reflection, prayers and education while families will be visited by campaign teams. Council chairmen, paramount and town chiefs will replicate the presidential speech at district and chiefdom levels, he said.
“From the 19-21st September, every household/family in the country will be visited. A team of three persons will engage families through a six steps approach of inspire, listen, acknowledge, empathize and call to action,” he said, adding that about seven thousand teams have been trained to involve in the process.