IMG 1615a

Friends of the Earth Liberia is working to turn back the Ebola epidemic through its work with the Community Awareness and Support Team (CAST). Ebola has killed thousands in Liberia and continues to cripple daily life and push the already fragile Liberian health service to the brink of collapse. Friends of the Earth Liberia and the CAST team have been distributing Ebola prevention kits and informational material.

In recent weeks, the Community Awareness and Support Team (CAST) delivered Ebola Prevention Kits (EPKs) to an additional 961 households including 66 public facilities, local government offices, clinics, market places and entertainment centers across 25 villages in Rivercess and Grand Bassa Counties. The direct beneficiaries included 5,654 members of the households served and dozens more who frequent the public facilities and centers that were served. The team, working with local authorities including town chiefs, and stakeholders posted Ebola awareness posters in all villages prioritizing meeting places such as Palava Huts, market spaces, shops and entertainment centers.

Since the launch of the initiative, CAST has delivered EPKs to 1,296 households including 90 public facilities. To date the distribution has reached the population of 37 villages in Grand Bassa and Rivercess Counties. The initiative is currently funded by individual donations (online) and contributions from other members of the Friends of the Earth network.

Summary of activities

1) The team developed a detailed tracking and data gathering form to document beneficiaries. This enabled the team to accurately document all the villages and towns, districts, heads of households, number of inhabitants of each household, and gender. The data gathered is shared with the County Health Team of Rivercess County. This is intended to avoid duplication and to provide information for follow up to assess the usefulness of the kit to the beneficiaries.

2) The team met with the Rivercess County Health Team on arrival in the county and attended the county Ebola Task Force meeting in the Cestos, the county’s capital. The County Health Team expressed appreciation to the CAST team and invited the team to send representatives to their regular meetings.

3) The team organized awareness session in each village prior to the distribution. During these sessions, the official Ebola awareness messages on infection, preventive measures, and how to deal with sick relatives, friends and loved ones were interpreted in the local dialects. The emergency hotlines for the County Health Teams were distributed to participants; and they were urged to call for help should a member of their community get ill. The team then demonstrated how to prepare the chlorine solution for washing hands and how to install the faucets on the buckets.

4) The team explained its mode of distribution to participants at the awareness meetings, and solicited suggestions from residents on how best the items could be distributed to make the most impact in their community. In all the villages visited locals suggested that public spaces be served as a priority; and individual homes or households can be served afterwards. Given the limited quantity of the EPKs, some households agreed to share, i.e. two or three households to one EPK.

5) Common questions and concerns included the following:
How to handle the dead when the County Health Team does not respond to a call, and the body of the dead remains in the village for more than a day;
How to handle sick relatives while waiting for the County Health Team, especially when the delay is more than a day;
Which bush meat to avoid, i.e. just monkeys and bats or all bush meat; and
How to replenish the disinfectants when the supplies run out.

6) The team leader also explained that it is preferable to call immediately when relatives are sick instead of waiting for the situation to get worse or when the sick person dies before calling for the ambulance. She/he emphasized that given the risks associated with burying the dead, especially when the cause of death is unknown or when the deceased had symptoms of the virus prior to death, villagers should do all they can to contact the County Health Team. To ensure that there’s follow up in these instances, CAST has a volunteer in each county’s capital. They are available to help by physically visiting the offices of the County Health Team and following up on requests from remote villages. In response to questions about replenishment of disinfectants, the team leader explained that locally made soap or the washing powder available on the local market can be used as substitute.

Image: UN Photo/Christopher Herwig