UNDP calls for greater community involvement to combat Ebola in West Africa

Oct 13, 2014

Ebola awareness training in session in Monrovia, Liberia. Credit: Kate Wingard

Freetown, Sierra Leone, 13 October – Local associations hold the key to beating Ebola in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, said UN development officials as they completed their visit to Freetown.

“What we are seeing here, in Freetown, is an incredible spirit of self-reliance that is winning hearts and minds in the fight against this devastating disease. That effort needs urgent support and a huge scale-up to end the crisis,” said Magdy Martínez Solimán, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Director of Policy and Programmes at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“Communities are strongly engaged and we are working with them and national authorities actively to strengthen the response but also reintegrate survivors, build back better and ultimately recover and improve livelihoods. We will end this crisis,” he added.

On October 11, the delegation visited community leaders in the poor and overcrowded Freetown area of Mabella, speaking with a sample of the 200 UNDP-sponsored volunteers who are leading education and outreach efforts in the neighborhoods.

As part of that community initiative, which has already reached out to 500,000 people, UNDP is working with a national NGO called One Family People to support 45 centers for disabled People across the country. Women and men with a range of disabilities are taking the lead in printing leaflets in braille, singing messages to visually impaired peers and fighting stigma. UNDP is also collaborating with 1,000 Okada riders, who drive motorcycle taxis, to distribute Ebola hygiene kits and explain to customers how to avoid contracting the disease.

In addition to its community engagement programme, UNDP in Sierra Leone is working with uniformed forces in the capital to implement standard operating procedures at checkpoints, quarantines and screening areas which take into account respect for human rights and physical needs like access to food and water.

During its visit, the group visited an Ebola treatment center in Lakka, on the outskirts of Freetown. It also met with government officials, including President Koroma; leadership from the Sierra Leonean Office of National Security, as well as the national coordinator for Ebola operations; and international representatives including Paul Farmer, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General for community-based medicine.

The Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone has disrupted the production and trade in foodstuffs and other goods, shut down businesses and made it impossible for thousands of women and men to obtain health care. Agriculture, mining, construction and services are among the worst affected sectors.

In Freetown, one of the most visible consequences of the outbreak has been the closure of nearly all bars, restaurants and nightclubs. This has forced the nation's largest brewery to scale down operations culminating in a loss of 24,000 jobs within the supply chain. According to UNDP, this number is only a small portion of the ballooning job losses expected during this crisis.

The team is now in Liberia, and will travel to Dakar on October 14 to meet with UNDP’s Director for Africa, Abdoulaye Mar Dieye and regional heads of UN agencies. Dieye has been leading a complementary visit to Accra, Ghana where the new UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) was established.

He met Friday with Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama -- who also serves as chairperson of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) -- to discuss UN support to the crisis in Western Africa. President Mahama highlighted the need to scale up rapid emergency response to the most affected countries.

Contact information

Nicolas Douillet, Communications Specialist, UNDP Africa
Tel: +1.917.701.1520 - Email: nicolas.douillet@undp.org

Sandra Macharia, Regional Communications Advisor, UNDP New York
Tel: +1.212.906.5377 - Email: sandra.macharia@undp.org