“Since I was carrying passengers every day, I took the opportunity to tell them about the risks of Ebola,” said Joël Songo, a motorcycle taxi driver in Mbandaka in the Equateur province. Between May and June 2018, an Ebola outbreak ravaged the province killing 29 people.
Joel is one of 1,770 drivers trained by the Red Cross, with the support of UNICEF, on the dangers of the Ebola virus and who were actively engaged in the fight against the epidemic. Through their daily job, motorbike taxi drivers come into contact with a large portion of the local population as motorbikes are the most used means of transport in Mbandaka.
On each taxi ride, Joël informed his passengers on the existence of the Ebola virus, how it can be transmitted, how to protect against it, as well as the importance of immediately going to a treatment centre when they show signs of any symptoms. Many distorted truths about the Ebola virus were making the rounds and people were afraid to go to the treatment centres.
Josiane, one of Joël’s passengers, was convinced the disease did not exist. “Healthcare workers lie, all they want is to take our money and get rich,” said Josiane. Thanks to her exchange with Joël, she soon understood that Ebola really existed in her city. “I did not believe in this disease, but when he explained how it was transmitted I became aware of the dangers.”
After taking part in the training session, Joël also decided to change his own habits and he stopped transporting several people on his motorbike at the same time as, when you have three or four people on a motorbike, it is impossible to avoid contact with strangers whose health status is unknown to you. “During the Ebola outbreak, I asked the motorbike taxi driver to take me along with two of my friends and he categorically refused,” recalled one of Joël’s passengers.
Thanks to the involvement of motorcycle taxi drivers like Joël, 595,000 people were made aware of the dangers of the Ebola virus in Mbandaka during the epidemic. Joël hopes that, although the epidemic is now over, people will continue to embrace the good habits they learned in order to help prevent a new outbreak of the disease.