May 20, 2015
The Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), Peter Graaff, has described the efforts of the women of Sierra Leone towards bending the Ebola curve in the country as “truly commendable”, saying it is precisely the kind of support required to get Ebola to zero and staying zero.
Mr. Graaff was speaking at a high level meeting at the District Ebola Response Centre in Kambia District on 15 May, where he revealed plans following the pending wrap up of UNMEER on 30 June 2015 and the latest trend of Ebola infection via cross border movements.
“What will the other side think of us (in Sierra Leone) when I go across later to Guinea?” assessing the effectiveness of the various collaborative efforts and initiatives undertaken by both countries in this last and final push, he asked.
The SRSG applauded the grassroots approach adopted by the women and thanked them for leading the initiative to undertake door-to-door sensitization exercises within their communities to get people to better understand the Ebola Virus Disease and to stick to the prescribed referral systems set up by the government.
Sharing her experience from the two-day engagement concluded by UN Women and UNMEER with the visiting mission, Adama Sesay, a traditional leader from the district, feels that she can now do a lot more to stop the virus in her community. “I have promised myself not to keep silent anymore. I will be more vigilant, I will inform the chiefdom authorities of any stranger in our community and I will call 117 (the Ebola emergency hotline) if I suspect any case of Ebola,” she explained.
Adama was part of 87 women from the district who converged to share their experiences on Ebola and to identify suitable cultural steps that they could take to help stop the spread of the virus. Believing in the abilities of these women, their knowledge, networks, outreach and credibility within their communities, to uncover secret burials and illegal camping of suspected patients, UN Women and UNMEER supported this community engagement in the Kambia District.
They promised to continue the engagements nationwide until Ebola ends but particularly in the Ebola hotspots that include the Port Loko and Bombali districts as well as the Western Area. These activities, they said, are part of the ‘Getting Ebola to Zero and Staying Zero’ campaign, which is seen to be more relevant now than ever before in dealing with the sporadic reported Ebola cases in the country.
According to Dr. Mary Okumu, the Representative of UN Women in Sierra Leone, “it is important, as we facilitate women’s leadership and engagement from a public health point of view, that we understand how and why women have survived Ebola”. She underscored the need for the campaign.
Sierra Leone’s Ebola Crisis Manager, Madam Bintou Keita, said that the campaign was timely and offers an opportunity for the women of Kambia to get engaged with their district and counterparts across the border in Guinea. She revealed that UNMEER is also supporting the Kambia Community Action Plan that was developed by descendants of the district, including Parliamentarians and those from the diaspora.
Realising the delays in wiping out Ebola in their community, descendants of the district are stepping up their involvement with their communities on Ebola through the social mobilisation pillars of the National Ebola Response Centre and the Kambia District Ebola Response Centre (DERC). The Kambia DERC is well advanced in acknowledging the gender dimensions of the disease and created a gender desk to help address the concerns of both women and men.
These community engagements have provided an unedited platform and safe place for women to investigate further about the disease and to express their fears. “What will happen to me if I refuse to welcome and treat a sick family member in my home?” questioned Mama Fatou, an elderly lady from Kambia, during the previous day’s discussion.
The Government of Sierra Leone and its development partners are desperate to trace and treat the last case of Ebola before the rains begin proper for fear that other diseases such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhea that normally break out during the rainy season, will compound the situation.