Cross section of tradiational heallers contact tracers in Kambia
FOCUS 1000 has been facilitating community engagements with Traditional Healers and Religious leaders in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Saniation in the Northern district of (Tonkolili, Port Loko, Kambia and Bombali districts) through the Social Mobilization Action Consortium (SMAC) with funding from DFID to reduce the further spread of the new Ebola cases reported early last month in the north.
It could be recalled that on the 12th January, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS) confirmed a new EVD case in Tonkolili district involving a female student from Lunsar (Port Loko) who visited Bamoi Lumur in Kambia district just days before reporting signs and symptoms. A second case of Ebola was confirmed on January 20, after the blood sample of a high risk contact linked to the index case tested positive for EVD.
In light of these developments, FOCUS1000 developed a quick response plan for the engagement of traditional healers to support the containment of the new outbreak. The plan was shared with SMAC for possible funding and was finally approved by DFID.
Since then FOCUS1000 have held a series of planning/consultative meetings with the leadership of the Sierra Leone Indigenous Traditional Healers Union (SLITHU). The traditional healers agreed to undertake a series of activities at both national and district level focusing on the priority districts of Tonkolili, Kambia, Port Loko and Bombali. Similar to their engagement in the prior outbreak ‘bush-to-bush' the groups adopted a multi-channel approach using existing community structures and trusted sources/messengers to engage the local communities on a range of containment measures.
The leadership of SLITHU took immediate action to inform all their members in all the 14 districts to meet with their respective DHMTs and other partners in their districts to reactivate their engagement.
Dr. Sullayman Kabba President Tradiational healers during consultative meeting at FOCUS 1000
They have called on their districts teams to specifically focus on the following aspects:
Inform all religious leaders and traditional healers in each district about the new EVD cases in Tonkolili district and alert them to be vigilant and reinstitute the public health measures promoted by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation during the previous outbreak. They were specifically reminded about the risk of treating or hiding sick persons and washing dead bodies in their communities.
Actively participate in all social mobilizations pillar meetings organized by DHMT and other partners in their respective districts.
Support the surveillance teams in searching for missing contacts in their districts/chiefdoms. They should encourage their followers to report any suspected cases or contact in their communities.
They should accompany the swab teams and support the burial teams to offer prayers for the dead and promote safe burial practices.
Take part in radio programs to sensitize the public about the need to observe the key messages being promoted by MoHS and partners to avoid the spread of the EVD.
Visiting quarantine homes in the district.
In the four districts, the traditional healers’ executive from Freetown organized refresher training for 480 traditional healers with technical support form FOCUS 1000. The participants drawn from herbalists, sowei, traditional doctors and ceremonial heads. They were oriented on Social Mobilization and Rapid Response. These engagements were held from 25th-30th January 2016 in the northern districts headquarters towns.
The traditional healers implored strategIC advocacy methods to reach out to stockholders in these districts.
Before every meeting in each of the district, the traditional healers’ executive from Freetown with their district coordinators would have debriefings with the district medical officers, police, and paramount chiefs in order to inform them about their purpose of visit and invited them to attend their meetings.
Traditional Healers Executive from Freetown and Port Loko meeting with CID Crime Officer in Port Loko ASP Micheal Lagga
They attended the district emergency Ebola response meetings to update health partners about their engagements and equally invited them to attend their meetings.
Traditional healers attend district emergency response meetings
The traditional healers also worked with CRISTAG/ISLAG representatives in all the districts by way of building trust in the community.
Traditional Healer National Registrer Afiz Kamara addressing religious leaders in Port Loko
The DMOs in the districts applauded traditional healers for their timely intervention and described their role as key in the Ebola fight as they are closed to their communities.
Dr. Sesay addressing Traditional healers
Dr. Tom Sesay DMO Port Loko district called on the traditional healers’ representatives in the district to be attending the District Emergency Response Meeting at the DHMT office to enable them to participate and make themselves relevant in discussions bordering the health situation of the district.
Cross section of participants
CDC Public Health Analyst in Kambia District Daniel Martin attended the Traditional Healers meeting in Kambia and called on traditional healers to abide by the public health safety rules on Ebola. He advised them not to treat anybody who approaches them with any sicknesses more particularly: malaria, diarrhea, fever etc. “From the traditional point of view, your community people have trust in you that you have the knowledge to treat them, but at this time refer them to the nearest health centre please don’t treat them!” Martin said. Martin went further to say CDC wants see the end of Ebola in Sierra Leone, as CDC is here to provide support to the Sierra Leone Government and partners.
Martin CDC representative in Kambia
Why this enagement useful?
- The engagements of traditional healers have been dubbed by districts medical officers in all the four districts in the new Ebola fights as a novelty.
- Traditional healers for the first time attended district emergency meetings at DHMTs and addressed health partners about their contribution to ending Ebola and made commitment to prosecute any of their members found treating people.
- They were able to engage district local authorities like the: district council chairmen, councilors, paramount chiefs and influenced them to attend their meetings and talked to traditional healers within their respective districts.
- The high sense of show of acceptance by the religious leaders who opened their doors and worked with traditional healers and allowed them to participate in their CHRISTAG/ISLAG community engagement meetings have added more respect for traditional healers importance in districts.
- Religious leaders have now seen traditional healers as partners in development not the other way round as many people used to perceive them as bad people.
- Traditional healers have been recruited as contact tracers to support the DHMTs social mobilization pillars to help find missing contacts.
- IEC materials were made available to participants on: Consolidated Message Guide for Ebola Communication in Sierra Leone done by SMAC; Key Messages for the Ring Vaccination and Ebola Key Messages
By Sallieu Sesay