By Regina Moore, Communications Manager at PSI
During the Ebola outbreak in Liberia this year, trust between communities and health facilities was severely damaged as facilities struggled to respond to pressing health needs while communities were in the dark about what was going on. Additionally, as Ebola survivors and family members of those affected began reintegrating into their communities, they faced stigma and difficulty resuming their place in society.
PSI/Liberia worked in close partnership with Mercy Corps, implementing their USAID funded Ebola Community Action Platform (E-CAP) to spread accurate information and critical messages throughout the country. While mHealth technology played a major role in data collection, making the messages that everyday Liberians received relevant and meaningful was equally important.
Critical community insight and personal stories of Ebola survivors helped frame the discourse, while PSI/Liberia and partners disseminated strategically crafted messages through community radio, billboards and interactive in-person trainings called the Listen. Learn. Act. program.
Conducted by PSI-trained community mobilizers, interactive trainings allowed community members to share their personal experiences, fears, biases and successes on Ebola-related topics with each other. They then learned basic information on the topics and identified methods to change or improve their communities. The participants were offered examples of ways to educate their peers, including inviting an Ebola burial team member to speak to a large gathering, setting up a hand-washing station outside a mosque or simply saying hello to an Ebola survivor.
To date, PSI has trained 872 mobilizers to conduct trainings with communicators tasked with spreading the messages they learn. What has been key in this model is that it is an entirely community-led response. While doctors and clinicians play a critical role in addressing Ebola, the efforts of community members, like these communicators, are equally valiant. They were most frequently reported as being the “most trusted person” in their communities for Ebola-related information, and the participatory nature of the E-CAP model has made it widely-recognized in Ebola-affected regions.
While there is still a long way to go in reducing stigma and restoring the trust between health facilities and the people they serve, programs like this are making significant strides.
ROMEL GYRMAH, 23 During the height of PSI’s Live. Learn. Act. program, Gyrmah was a mobilizer with Wongosol, PSI and Mercy Corp’s local partner in Monrovia, Liberia.
She worked with eight communicators in two different communities in Monrovia, and met with them three times a week. Romel says there was a “sense of denial” in the community, and rather than take in information, community members would want tangible “fixes,” such as buckets.
Gyrmah said that school tuition has gone up since the Ebola crisis, because fewer children are going to school, forcing schools to raise tuition, affecting the ability to go to school for many, and others to have money for much else. Seeing communicators and others who continue to work on raising Ebola awareness buoys her own commitment. That, and when she meets people in the community who are genuinely interested in learning how to stay healthy.
Gyrmah had a close friend who became sick with Ebola and yet survived. Reducing stigma as people reintegrate back into the community is of the utmost importance to Gyrmah. “I do it [work as a mobilizer] with all my heart,” she says. “I saw people dead on the street, families and neighbors in tears.
Deploying mHealth Communications Solutions
Make sure the message is relevant to the community it seeks to address by incorporating community feedback first.
Ensure connectivity and access to the technologies you seek to use by partnering with private sectors, NGOs and country governments.