The Social Development Adviser for DFID Richard Carter has disclosed to religious and traditional healers in Kambia district that their timely intervention during the difficult times of the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone saved DFID millions of pounds; which could have been used to provide treatment for thousands of Sierra Leoneans who would have been infected by the Ebola virus. He revealed that DFID had spent half a billion pounds to help contain the virus in Sierra Leone, and that 20 million pounds from that amount was spent on social mobilization. He made these remarks during his Social Mobilisation & Urgent Needs visit to Traditional and Religious leaders at the Kambia district DHMT conference hall on Monday 8th February, 2016.
The meeting was attended by senior executive members from ISLAG/CHRISTAG and Traditional Healers from Freetown, District Coordinators, District Task Force members, ISLAG/CHRISTAG and Traditional Healers contact tracers and members in Kambia disrict, DFID Program Manager Rocio Moreno, SMAC District Liaison Officer Ibrahim Fofonah, Abdul Tejan Deen Social Mobbilization Pillar Chairman DHMT and the Kambia District Acting Chief Imam Sheik Osman Ibrahim Kabba.
During the meeting, Carter went on to say in his view, it is not by mistake that religious and traditional leaders were used as central pillars in the social mobilization drive, especially in changing community practices that increased the risk of transmission.
Religious leaders played a pivotal role in the area of safe and dignified burials, during the height of the crisis. As trusted leaders of the community, the use of Islamic and Biblical verses to reinforce key Ebola messages was a great boost in the fight to end Ebola.
He made it clear to traditional and religious leaders at the meeting that DIFD acknowledged their good works to ending Ebola in Sierra Leone.
“In circumstances where we have worked with Islamic Action Group (ISLAG) and the Christian Action Group (CHRISTAG) as independent but equally valued organizational entities in the faith-based component of the social mobilization response, they have been important in cultivating and maintaining relationships at the community level. These faith-based entities gave us a unique avenue and reach into communities, with the withdrawal of community mobilizers, we shall support and maintain this reach in whatever way possible” the DFID Social mobilization Adviser told religious leaders referencing an email sent to one of his colleagues on Thursday 4th February, 2016.
He pledged that he would facilitate whatever support he could to help sustain the work of CHRISTAG/ISLAG and Traditional Healers across the country.
The Social Mobilization Action Consortium (SMAC) District Liaison Officer (DLO) Ibrahim Bakarr Fofanah said during the outbreak, the social mobilization pillar in the district faced serious ‘trust’ issues as people continued to be in denial. The intervention of religious leaders helped to build that trust. He went on to say most of the cases they had during the peak of the virus in Kambia district were linked to traditional healers. He commended the swift intervention of FOCUS 1000 by engaging traditional healers who greatly helped the district meet its zero new infection cases.
“The district medical team has developed a 21 day plan in order to trace the 37 missing contacts in the district; traditional and religious leaders would be actively involved in the execution of the plan”, Ibrahim stated.
Mr. Bakarr Fofonah acclaimed the leadership of FOCUS 1000 in Kambia district as they were very proactive in terms of their engagement with the District Health Medical Team (DHMT). He acknowledged the recent support the religious and traditional healers’ contact tracers have been doing in complementing district’s social mobilization drive.
Pastor Sumura-Bang CHRISTAG District Coordinator and Sheik Umar Tam Sesay ISLAG District Coordinator gave the district updates of religious leaders’ activities in the district. Key highlights of their updates include:
- Working with the District Disaster Management Team on district disaster management.
- Working with the grievance and redress mechanisms committee to monitor government projects in the district.
- Working with the Kambia District Council on strategic district progammes.
- Partnership with Access to Justice and the Tony Blaire Faith Foundation on malaria prevention.
- Conducting orientation sessions for their members on Ebola prevention and financial management from district, chiefdoms and section levels.
- Playing a central role in the “Operation Northern Push” initiative by the National Ebola Response Centre (NAERC).
Pastor Bangs and Sheik Sesay informed DFID that ISLAG/CHRISTAG has established district structures and have built strong relationship with the DHMT. They were featured in current affairs programs on radio. The religious leaders have held special prayers for Ebola survivors, a thanksgiving ceremony were they gave awards to members who played an active role during the outbreak. They have been participating in the ongoing contact tracing drive in the district and been involved in the Wring Vaccination exercise.
What made their role exceptional in the Ebola fight according to the two men of God was their role in the promotion of safe and dignified burials and instilling confidence in the minds of their communities on the use of health facilities; hospitals, clinics, ambulances and compliance with health service providers.
On their part, the Traditional Healers District Coordinator Pa Foday Samura welcomed the support they have been receiving from FOCUS 1000 with funds from DFID. They now have phones and bikes which they have been using to coordinate and monitor their members within the district. He told the meeting that traditional healers instituted a by-law that banned all traditional healers from treating and undertaking any initiation ceremonies (Poro and Bondo society). They continue to adhere to the Ebola safe practice guidelines and support the DHMT in their social mobilization efforts.
It could be recalled that DFID led the international response to the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone and had spent up to half a billion pounds in ending the epidemic. Their objective is to support the Government of Sierra Leone to end the current outbreak, and to maintain vigilance and preparedness to prevent any future outbreaks – maintaining a ‘resilient zero’.
Over 1,500 British military personnel were deployed to Sierra Leone to help oversee the construction of six UK funded treatment centres from scratch and trained over 4,000 Sierra Leonean and international health care workers.
I would safely say this meeting has manifested Focus 1000’s unique approach in engaging communities during the Ebola outbreak. It has brought to light the cordial relationship between religious and traditional healers’ joints efforts in community engagement. One key lesion learnt from this meeting, was the acknowledgment of DHMT in the work of traditional and religious leaders in the district.
By Sallieu Sesay
Published: 10th Feb-2016