Ebola Crisis: Credible and accurate information can save lives

Source: Wed, 8 Oct 2014 12:07 PM
Image: Save the Children, 2014.
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Update 28/10/2014: We have now added common messaging on Ebola (approved by WHO and Unicef) to our Message Library. It is available in both English and French. We will be updating this messaging as and when new versions are available.

On 8 August, WHO declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and severely affected countries are struggling to control the escalating outbreak against a backdrop of weak health systems, significant deficits in capacity, and rampant fear. This fear is fuelling rumour and causing significant hostility within affected communities – in recent weeks this has led to the death of five health workers and three journalists in Guinea.

Daniel Bruce and Jeanne Bourgault of Internews recently published an article in UK Newspaper 'The Guardian 'outlining the important role of media and information when an outbreak, such as the current Ebola crisis, occurs, and how misinformation and rumour has created fear and mistrust. This can be accessed here:

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2014/sep/29/media-and-communications-the-first-line-of-defence-against-ebola

On 1 October a large group of NGOs, some of whom are CDAC Network Members, released a Joint Statement on the Ebola crisis, aimed at the international humanitarian community. This outlines some of the key things that the group believes must be urgently addressed in order to mitigate the spread of Ebola in Sierra Leone and beyond:

http://www.rescue-uk.org/press-releases/effective-international-response-defeat-Ebola-in-Sierra-Leone

At this time, it is critical that the response dedicates resources to understanding how to deliver credible information, through trusted sources. Messaging alone will not convince people who have heard and believed rumours from their friends and families. UNICEF and CRS have also released a KAP survey from Sierra Leone highlighting the urgent need for more information work on Ebola, especially through radio:

http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Ebola-Virus-Disease-National-KAP-Study-Final-Report_-final.pdf

As there is a lot of confusion about how the virus is contracted, information and messaging on how to prevent the disease needs to be developed in consultation with local communities, available in local West African languages and accessible to all groups. Sensitive topics, including those which challenge local beliefs and traditions such as burial practices, also need to be comprehensively discussed at local level. Effective communication through multiple, trusted channels of communication is key to this response.

CDAC Network Members are working across the region to engage trusted local religious leaders, local media, and youth groups to turn the tide against misinformation and provide lifesaving advice. Complaints management and discussions regarding the success and challenges of the response are also critical. CDAC Network Members are currently exploring ways to establish common complaints response platforms by engaging local media, community health workers and establishing information flows using SMS services.

For more information, these articles detail the importance of information in a crisis – and how credible sources, including the local media, have the greatest impact:

https://www.internews.org/our-stories/news/media-communications-first-line-defense-ebola

http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2014/09/29/ebola-west-africa-fighting-toxic-information/h5kwht7sTUeJK9G0iEQohO/story.html?event=event12http://blogs.savethechildren.org.uk/2014/09/ebola-crisis-the-need-to-shed-light-on-this-deadly-disease/

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