Involving everyone: Social mobilization is key in an Ebola outbreak response in Guinea

May 2014

“Our country has been hit by Ebola, a dangerous viral disease. The virus is dangerous, but you will not get infected if you follow our recommendations. Here is what you can do to protect yourself and your family.” The voice of a man in a Red Cross loudspeaker car drowns out the cries of market vendors and the noise of heavy traffic and a crowd of people starts to gather around the vehicle. It is Saturday and the busy marketplace of Matoto in the Guinean capital, Conakry, is full of vendors and shoppers.

Soumah Mouctar and Thierno Ibrahima belong to the Red Cross team that visits the largest markets and bus stations of Conakry to inform the population about Ebola and how they can protect themselves and their families
WHO/MA Heine

Several people from Matoto have contracted Ebola and their family members and other contacts are being followed up for 21 days, which is longer than the infection’s period of incubation. The community is scared and upset and people are in need of accurate information.

“We are targeting our outreach activities to the districts where there have been cases of Ebola,” says Benjamin Pé Goumou, spokesperson of the Guinean Red Cross. “We ask people what they know about the disease and respond to their questions.”

Ebola outreach campaign in the community

To reassure the population, the mayor of Matoto and representatives of the Guinean Ministry of Health, Red Cross, WHO, and religious leaders came together to kick off the Ebola outreach campaign in the community.

“It is difficult to make people here understand, as many of them can neither write nor read. Therefore, we do talk to them in simple phrases and in their local languages,” explains Soumah Mouctar, one of the 25 Red Cross volunteers who are helping to spread the word in the capital. “The Red Cross is a respected institution in Guinea and therefore people listen to us and believe in what we tell them.”

Soumah and his colleagues go to marketplaces, bus stations, and other busy places to raise their megaphones and disseminate key messages about Ebola developed by WHO and its partners. In addition, the volunteers go from house to house to provide information, respond to questions and sometimes also distribute soap and small bottles of chlorine. The Red Cross also works in the forest regions where the virus made its first appearance.

Key Ebola messages via television and radio

The current outreach campaign is part of a second round of social mobilization in the Guinean capital Conakry, a city with more than 2 million inhabitants. So far, communication about Ebola, its risks and how people can protect themselves from the disease has reached the population mainly via television and radio. TV and radio spots in French and six local languages are being broadcast repeatedly before and after the news through national and local TV and radio stations. In addition, 23 rural radio stations broadcasting across the country are running spots and “micro-programmes” in local languages.

Involving everyone

Women's associations help to disseminate key messages on Ebola in Conakry and also raise funds for the outbreak response

Civil society organizations are also supporting the information campaign on Ebola. People hear about the disease and how they can prevent infection in mosques, churches, schools and universities, as well as through women’s associations and other entities. Activities including roundtables and fund raisers are being organized.

As many people in the poorer parts of Conakry and in the countryside do not have access to television or radio, it is necessary to take a more direct approach to calm fears and dispel rumours.

“We need to involve everyone,” says Dr Tata Gakou, head of the Health Department of Conakry. “As people often do not trust the media, we need to communicate with them in a more direct way. This is the only way to make sure that people do not hide their sick family members but make sure that they get good care in the hospital from the experts who came to help Guinea fight this terrible disease.”