Cross section of religious leaders in Port Loko townhall meeting

The northern parts of Sierra Leone (Bombali, Kambia, Tonkolili and Portloko districts) at this time are the latest sight of attraction since the re-emergence of the new Ebola cases in Sierra Leone.

In a bid to complement the District Health Medical Teams (DHMTs) through their social mobilization drive in order to reduce the further spread of the Ebola virus, religious leaders in the north have already taken the lead to engage their communities especially borderline communities to adhere to the rules set forth by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and partners on Ebola prevention.

Key messages they take to communities include:
• do not touch or wash dead bodies;
• report all health related cases;
• call 117 for any death or sick cases
• practice safe burials amongst others

During a meeting held at the FOCUS 1000 head office in Freetown on Thursday 21st January, some District Religious Coordinators from the north who were part of DFID funded ISLAG/CHRISTAG project being implemented by FOCUS 1000 informed the Chief Executive Officer of Focus 1000 Mohammad Jalloh and team that since the new cases of Ebola started, they have intensified their community engagement in promoting messages on Ebola prevention in their districts.

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Meeting with cross section of District Coordinators for ISLAG AND CHRISTAG at FOCUS 1000 office

They disclosed that they have been attending social mobilization meetings DHMTs, used their sermons in churches and ‘Kutbas’ Islamic preaching to inform their congregations on Ebola prevention and protection. They have been participating as guests on Radio discussion programmes. They have also been organizing community meetings which attracts youth leaders, market women, bike riders; traditional healers, councilors etc. to promote positive messages on Ebola.

In Kambia district, one of the districts that the first confirmed Ebola case transited before returning to Tonkolili district, religious leaders in the district have called on the public especially their chiefdoms religious representatives not to hide any suspected case. One suspected case that had had contact with a confirmed Ebola case is reported to have fled quarantine home. They have learnt that the man in question is a religious figure and close relative to the victim. This report was confirmed by Rev. Samura-Bangs CHRISTAG District Coordinators Kambia district.

FOCUS 1000 with support from DFID through SMAC has identified priority districts in the north i.e. Tonkolili district priority (A), Port Loko and Bombali districts priority (B) to engage religious leaders to accelerating their drive in terms of messaging on Ebola prevention.

FOCUS 1000 in partnership with religious heads will:

• Organise emergency planning meeting with the national leadership of ISLAG AND CRISTAG in order to enhance rapid response engagement strategy with religious leaders in this new Ebola fight

• Support influential religious leaders to participate in national television and radio programmes at both national and district level, so that, the public receives key messages from influential religious leaders especially in relation to burial practices

• Conduct refresher training on advance response for district coordinators on key supportive messages on Ebola to be used during their sermons and ‘kutbas’.
• Train 120 religious leaders on the tailored messages in each district

• Integrate religious leaders in contact tracing

• Support religious leaders to provide psychosocial support and counseling to affected households, families

• Support religious leaders to participate in safe burial

It could be recalled that during the first Ebola outbreak in March 2014, FOCUS 1000 with funds from DFID through SMAC worked with religious leaders to:

• improve the knowledge and belief of religious leaders and traditional healers about the transmission, prevention and control of the Ebola Virus Disease

• Discuss the role of religious leaders in ensuring safe and dignified burials, early referral of suspected cases of Ebola and addressing the issue of respect for Ebola Survivors and Health Workers

• Engage religious leaders – Muslims and Christians – to mobilize their respective congregations to participate in the fight against Ebola

Similar trend will continue as the country now has new confirmed Ebola cases with a first case reported on 12th January, 2016, just after WHO had declared West Africa new Ebola infection free.

By: Sallieu Sesay