Red Cross Red Crescent best practice in Community Engagement and Accountability (CEA) to prevent, prepare for and respond to epidemics in West Africa
Preparing for and preventing epidemics
Preventing outbreaks of disease is a key priority for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Stopping an outbreak before it spreads out of control saves lives, protects livelihoods and supports long term development.
Along with causing 11,000 deaths, the 2014 to 2016 West Africa Ebola virus disease outbreak severely impacted health systems and cost Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone an estimated $2.8 billion. A key lesson in the response to this outbreak was the critical importance of engaging with and mobilising communities to bring the epidemic under control.
Trusted, clear and effective communication and engagement approaches proved critical to ensuring that fear, panic and rumours did not undermine response efforts and lead to Ebola spreading even more quickly. Good community engagement also helped responders to gain an insight into the perceptions, behaviours and priorities of different groups, which lead to more effective and targeted messaging. Engaging with communities before epidemics hit also helped to promote long-term healthy practices and provided information on cultural and social norms and community dynamics, information which proved invaluable when responding to outbreaks.