On Thursday 17th March, the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) which started in 2014 to be finished in Sierra Leone, and therefore in West Africa as a whole.
What does this mean, how did young Sierra Leoneans make this happen, and what is next?
After tackling Ebola every day for almost two years, we will not relax our watch. Maybe the virus will come back, in which case we will be ready for it. The real achievement today is that the youth of Sierra Leone have shown they are a special generation that can meet any challenge. The lesson for the world is clear, we must prioritise the power of communities to tackle current and future health humanitarian challenges. Restless Development Sierra Leone is proud to have supported so many communities in taking their own action on ending Ebola transmission" - James Fofanah, Sierra Leone Country Director for Restless Development
On Saturday 7th November 2015, the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Sierra Leone to be over. This was because it had passed 42 days since the last confirmed case, double the 21 day incubation period of the virus. On 14th January 2016, Liberia also passed that mark, and the outbreak in the whole region that started in May 2014, claiming close to 11,000 lives, was declared over. Hours later, a new case was discovered in Sierra Leone, and Restless Development's Amelia Leo blogged on what it was like to be in Sierra Leone that day.
[Sierra Leoneans, including Restless Development Ebola Community Mobilisers, celebrate the end of Ebola outbreak announced on 7th November 2015]
The announcement of Thursday 17th March 2016, that those new cases in Sierra Leone have also now passed the threshold, is viewed as unlikely to be the last flare up of Ebola. Then in 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 2 March]
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.
[Restless Development's volunteers and Jamie Bedson, international director for Restless Development, explain their role in the outbreak]
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’. Restless Development's Rhianna Ilube has blogged on the launch of the #EbolaLessons report where Director of People and Performance Kate Muhwezi spoke.
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. Jamie has also been quoted in the Guardian on how we need to learn the lessons of the Ebola response for the community engagement in the Zika virus response.
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)