Christian Aid is training hundreds of local volunteers in Sierra Leone to offer much-needed psychosocial support to individuals and families affected by the Ebola outbreak.
Funded by UK aid from the UK Government, Christian Aid’s ENCISS programme has trained 310 people across six districts to provide critical psychosocial counselling for those affected by virus, which has so far killed over 1,500 people and infected an estimated 7,700 in Sierra Leone alone.
The local volunteers will give face-to-face support to Ebola survivors and their families, bereaved individuals, and relatives of suspected or confirmed Ebola patients, helping to tackle the growing levels of stigma surrounding the disease.
Saio Momoh Kinthor, Christian Aid’s ENCISS National Programme Manager, based in Freetown, said: “There is a desperate need for psychosocial support and training in Sierra Leone. Stigmatisation has become a serious problem, pushing Ebola survivors and families out of their communities and adding to their pain.
“We need to encourage the acceptance of medically cleared survivors and help communities understand the facts about Ebola transmission. It is important that communities and survivors stand in unity to successfully combat Ebola in Sierra Leone.”
The training has been coordinated by ENCISS partners, who have also trained 370 volunteer ‘contract tracers’ across seven districts. These volunteers are helping to identify individuals who have come into contact with Ebola patients, ensuring symptoms are reported to district health teams so they receive appropriate care.
Lahai Galiwa, Team Leader of ENCISS partner Movement for Resettlement and Rural Development (MORRD) based in Kenema – one of the original Ebola hotspots – said: “Although government and other partners are providing support, it’s not reaching rural areas, especially contact tracing and training. The more contact tracers we have, the better our Ebola response will be.”
The psychosocial and contract tracing training has been given to community volunteers as well as representatives of local councils, the police force and civil society groups in areas such Bombali, Bo, Kenema and the Western Area (which includes Freetown). Some of the training has been delivered in partnership with Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation.
Speaking at a training session in Freetown, Alfred Dumbuya, Director of ENCISS partner Sierra Leone Social Aid Volunteers, said: “The ongoing Ebola crisis has demanded an extraordinary relief effort by the Government of Sierra Leone, international agencies, local communities and civil society organisations.
“The training by the Ministry of Health and ENCISS is teaching individuals important skills necessary for securing a rapid victory against Ebola, and will help allow our communities a swift to return to normality.”
Christian Aid’s ENCISS programme has also been working through its civil society partners to deliver radio broadcasts on local stations, featuring a variety of content that can reach quarantined households. These include counselling-based radio programmes, discussion shows designed to promote Ebola prevention measures, and broadcasts that can educate listeners on the regional regulations currently in place as part of public health measures.
As part of its vision to improve governance in Sierra Leone, ENCISS is working through its partners to hold ‘accountability platform’ radio shows with local councillors and other government representatives, in a bid to promote transparency around the use of Ebola funds.
Figures released by the World Health Organisation this week indicate that Sierra Leone has now overtaken Liberia as the country with the highest number of Ebola cases.
To find out more about Christian Aid’s Ebola crisis response, visit www.christianaid.org.uk/ebolacrisis.