Epidemic ready: Community engagement key in fight against Ebola

Documenting best practices and lessons learned in Community Engagement and Accountability (CEA) to prevent epidemics in West Africa

West Africa / 2017

Community engagement is essential at all stages of epidemic preparedness and response. Trusted, clear and effective communication and engagement approaches are critical to ensure that fear, panic and rumours do not undermine response efforts and lead to a disease spreading even more quickly. Good community engagement can also help responders to gain an insight into the perceptions and behaviours of different groups, and to develop effective and targeted messaging. Engaging with communities before an epidemic is important to promote healthy practices and to understand their cultural and social norms and community dynamics, information which proves invaluable when responding to outbreaks.

The project

At the height of the Ebola virus disease epidemic in West Africa, a project funded by the European Union was initiated which aimed to halt transmission and stop the disease spreading to neighbouring countries in the region through community engagement and social and behaviour change communication.

Implemented from 2014 – 2016, the “West Africa Preparedness Project: Ebola and other epidemic Beneficiary Communication and Social Mobilization, Response and Prevention” project used community engagement to improve the prevention, preparedness and control of Ebola.

As the threat of Ebola reduced, the project scope was expanded to incorporate other important epidemic diseases (e.g. cholera, meningitis, Lassa fever) and the timeframe extended from one to two years.

Target countries included in the project were Nigeria, Senegal, Guinea- Bissau, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Mali, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.

Key project activities included stakeholder and media mapping, assessment of risk perception, knowledge, attitudes and practices, and identification of trusted sources of information and commonly used communication channels. Using this information, social and behaviour change communication (SBCC) plans were developed and implemented in partnership with government, media outlets and telecommunications providers. SBCC activities and messages were continually adapted based on feedback from communities, to ensure that they were effective at addressing myths, rumours, stigmas and misinformation.