Misconceptions Fuel Ebola Outbreak in West Africa

July 11, 2014

UNICEF is stepping up efforts to prevent further spread of the disease

NEW YORK (July 11, 2014) –  As the Ebola-related death toll rises above 500 in West Africa, UNICEF and its partners are expanding their activities across the region to halt the spread of the disease by combating rumors, fears and misconceptions.

“Rumors and denial are fueling the spread of Ebola and putting even more lives at risk,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “Some people still deny that the disease is real. Others believe that it doesn’t have to be treated.”

With more than 850 cases reported in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone by the World Health Organization (WHO), this first-ever Ebola outbreak in West Africa has become a major regional threat, unprecedented in duration and scale. Widespread misconception, resistance, denial and occasional hostility in some communities are further complicating the humanitarian response to contain the outbreak.

“The response goes beyond medical care,” Fontaine said. “If we are to break the chain of Ebola transmission, it is crucial to combat the fear surrounding it and earn the trust of communities. We have to knock on every door, visit every market and spread the word in every church and every mosque. To do so, we urgently need more people, more funds, more partners.”

Last week in Ghana’s capital Accra, WHO convened governments from across West Africa, non-governmental organizations, regional inter-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies to agree on a set of joint priority actions for the first time since the beginning of the Ebola crisis.

UNICEF is stepping up its efforts across seven countries—Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Mali and Gambia—to prevent further spread of the virus, through mobile messaging and ongoing TV, radio and print communication campaigns. Since the outbreak was declared, UNICEF and its partners have reached at least 5.5 million people in West Africa.

In Liberia, for example, UNICEF has supported the production of two pop songs produced by local group Crusaders for Peace and “HIPCO” artists—Deng, SoulFresh and FA—on how to prevent the spread of Ebola, which are being aired on national and community radio stations across the country.

Together with its partners, including government authorities, WHO, Red Cross Societies and local organizations, UNICEF also supports door-to-door outreach activities, mass social mobilization efforts and the training of community health workers. Prevention efforts have been made to inform more communities in affected areas, with the participation of traditional and religious authorities as key allies.

In Guinea and Liberia, UNICEF and its partners have also become the main provider of chlorine and soap, with more than two million bars of soaps and over 600,000 bottles of chlorine distributed in households, health centers and schools since April. In addition, UNICEF teams in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire have also been put on alert to respond to Ebola spreading into their borders.

The Ebola virus, which has no vaccine and no cure, is transmitted by direct contact with infected animals or people. To further ramp up its efforts, UNICEF is appealing for $ 2.6 million to provide life-saving supplies and disseminate vital information to prevent the spread of Ebola in the seven at-risk counties. The funding needs will most likely increase as national response plans in several countries are being revised to cope with the growing number of cases and to step up prevention efforts.


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The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in 190 countries and territories to save and improve children’s lives, providing health care and immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF’s work through fundraising, advocacy, and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when zero children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org


For additional information, please contact:

Susannah Masur, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.880.9146, smasur@unicefusa.org