March 31, 2015, marks one year since Liberia’s first diagnosed case of Ebola in what has become the deadliest outbreak of the disease in history. More than 10,000 people have died from Ebola in the past year, mostly in three West African nations: Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
Recent weeks have brought stumbling blocks in Liberia’s struggle toward zero cases. A new infection after three Ebola-free weeks put a damper on progress, compounded by the unexpected death Friday of 44-year-old female patient Ruth Tugbeh, who had been deemed in stable condition only a few days before.
As the country doubles down its efforts, Devex asked Mercy Corps Liberia Country Director Penny Anderson to walk us through the operations of the country’s largest network of NGO partners working on Ebola outreach.
With many lessons still to learn, Anderson offers insight into progress already being made and how these successes will influence a post-outbreak Liberia.
“We’ve hit our goal already of reaching 2 million people,” Penny Anderson, Liberia country director for Mercy Corps, told Devex. “Of the 76 partner organizations we work with, 71 are Liberian organizations.”
“When all of this started, there was a fair amount of resistance to the idea of Ebola in the first place, and a lot of resistance to the messages and messengers,” Anderson told Devex. By using trusted community members in the ECAP program, outreach focuses as much on reducing stigma against returning survivors as fighting the disease itself.
Alfred Kendor, 28, is one of the young people in this area trying to regroup after Ebola not only stole people’s lives, but their futures as well. As a youth leader, Kendor helped carry out a Mercy Corps market assessment of how Ebola affected jobs, schools and the economy.
“Survivors are less frightening to the rest of the community if they are right in front of you, speaking out,” Anderson told Devex. “This also gives the survivors a way to take this dreadful experience and find a way to process it as well as give some guidance to their communities.”
Public health trainers and staff from various nongovernmental organizations meet in Monrovia for Ebola training led by Mercy Corps partner Population Services International.
Many people can benefit from talking about their own frightening experience, Anderson explained. This is why facilitators often first ask the communities: “What do you know about Ebola? What is your experience with Ebola?”
Mamu Paasewe and Bendu Fahnbulleh are two community educators who were trained by Mercy Corps to help educate people in their community about the dangers and prevention of the Ebola virus.
“Civil society organizations in Liberia are discovering new tools, and we think they’re becoming individually stronger,” Anderson said. “Also we’re strengthening their network among the various NGOs, and with the government, which will mean a stronger CSO community down the line.”
The Liberia Crusaders for Peace wrote the “Ebola Must Go” jingle to be used as an effective way to create awareness in Ebola-affected countries.
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