On Saturday 7th November, the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Sierra Leone to be over. This is because it will have passed 42 days since the last confirmed case, double the 21 day incubation period of the virus. While cases continue in neighbouring Guinea, and there is a 90-day period of heightened surveillance after the announcement, this milestone will mark the end of 18 months of the outbreak which started in May 2014.
[WHO Geographical distribution of new and total confirmed cases in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone up to 25 October]
Restless Development, the youth-led international development agency, have operated a network of thousands of young volunteers in Sierra Leone since 2003. When the outbreak started we were asked by the Sierra Leonean government and the UK Department for International Development to help coordinate the community-led 'Social Mobilisation Action Consortium' (SMAC) side of the official Ebola response.
SMAC reaches people in Sierra Leone with consistent and credible information about Ebola, and, most importantly, engages communities so they can lead their own behaviour-change in respect of safe burials, early treatment and the social acceptance of survivors.
Working with and through a network of trusted sources, including 36 partner radio stations, 1,989 religious leaders, and 2,366 community mobilisers, the consortium reaches more than 10,000 communities across Sierra Leone, many in some of the most rural and remote locations.
Reacting to the announcement of the end of the current outbreak on November 7th, James Fofanah, Sierra Leone Country Director for Restless Development, said:
“While we must remain vigilant, we should celebrate the role Sierra Leonean communities have played to fight back against this virus, they are the real heroes. Overcoming the Ebola crisis has proven that the youth of Sierra Leone are a special generation - they will now show us they can meet any challenge. The lesson for the world is clear, we must prioritise the power of community-led social mobilisation to tackle current and future health challenges and humanitarian emergencies.” - James Fofanah, Sierra Leone Country Director
The long suspected fact that the virus can persist in survivors has been confirmed by recent studies, however the length of time is yet to be ascertained. After-effects for survivors have been long documented in Sierra Leone and has been an integral part of the medical response. Restless Development will continue to promote safe sex and condom use for survivors, along with for all young people we work with. We will be working with partner to reduce stigma, raise issues of health impacts in the communities in which we work and support all efforts to support survivors over the years of recovery.
Through the Social Mobilisation Action Consortium, Restless Development are currently developing and implementing a scale-down model which will ensure the same high community coverage nationally but help to transition from emergency social mobilisation to a more sustainable model of social mobilisation
The struggle against Ebola has demonstrated that if they are supported to lead their own response, communities have the power to tackle other challenges facing them such as teenage pregnancy, child marriage, and Female Genital Mutilation.
Restless Development has submitted evidence to the UK Africa All Party Parliamentary Group inquiry into ‘Community-led health systems and the Ebola outbreak’. In this blog (‘Communities are the real heroes’), Jamie Bedson, Restless Development’s Sierra Leone country director at the beginning of the outbreak, outlines the reasons behind our call that the international community needs to improve the way we do humanitarian and health response, and to prioritise community-leadership of social mobilisation.
“The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has reinvigorated the debate about the role of ‘social mobilisation’ and ‘community engagement’, not only in response to devastating disease but a range of other intractable issues affecting Africa and the rest of the developing world. But what do we mean by ‘social mobilisation’? And why are we only learning now that community leadership is important?” - Jamie Bedson, Restless Development director (International)