The ongoing outbreak of Ebola virus disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which started in August 2018, has been declared a public health emergency of international concern. At least 3,200 cases have been reported and more than 2,100 people have died. The risk of the outbreak spreading into neighboring border countries such as Burundi remains high.
An Ebola awareness campaign organized by UNICEF Burundi informs local communities on how to prevent the virus from spreading
One of the critical crossing points is the border town of Gatumba: an average of 6,000 people cross the border every day on weekdays, and an average of 3,000 people during the weekends, for various socioeconomic and medical reasons.
In Gatumba, a few yards away from the local market, a dozen people gather to listen to a song coming from big speakers on the top of a van with big posters on its sides. A child stops to grab an Ebola brochure from one of the local health educators.
Health educators distribute brochures, answer questions and dispel rumors
A few minutes later, more people surround the van, and the staff distributes brochures to all. With the help of Jean Louison Miango Makunda, UNICEF Burundi's Communication for Development (C4D) consultant on Ebola preparedness, health educators begin a Q & A: "Do you have an idea what Ebola is? What are the symptoms of Ebola? Do you know what you need to do to avoid being infected?"
Most people in the community are fishermen who regularly cross the border to DRC via Lake Tanganyika. Many acknowledge that they have limited knowledge of Ebola. They also report that rumors spread quickly, false information too, and some are apprehensive.
Like Emelyne Niyoukuru, a 40-year-old mother of four, the majority of the Gatumba community relies on the local radio for the latest news.
Asked about Ebola, Niyoukuru explains, "It was on the radio that we heard about Ebola in the DRC. I was worried about myself and my family. I don't know anything about how to prevent Ebola. Today, I saw people coming to raise awareness and I learned a lot. I got a brochure with drawings. It's very useful and easy to understand. People in charge should make more effort to increase awareness so that we all can contribute to preventing Ebola from arriving in Burundi."
UNICEF community influencers promote preparedness and frequent, thorough handwashing
Niyoukuru sells vegetables in the village's market, all day, every day. She and a dozen other women and men deal directly with traders coming from DRC. The risk of transmission is potentially high, but preparedness is strengthened through risk communication, social mobilization and community management.
UNICEF supports the Government of Burundi through the Ministry of Public Health to educate through multi-channel interventions targeting both the most-at-risk population and the public, mostly through mobile public awareness campaigns, door-to-door outreach efforts and the distribution of Ebola prevention brochures.
In addition, the Ministry of Communication, Information, Education and Population (CIEP), with support from UNICEF, produces radio spots and content for radio programs broadcast nationally.
Ebola awareness and community engagement activities have reached more than 1.3 million people in Burundi's priority districts through interpersonal communication, public service announcements, mobile cinema, religious leaders and outreach campaigns featuring theatrical performances, songs and quiz contests.
UNICEF Ebola awareness and community engagement activities have reached more than 1.3 million people in Burundi's priority districts
"This is an emergency," UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in July. "There is a very real risk that the Ebola outbreak could spread to neighboring countries, so the international community should urgently come together to make sure that doesn't happen."
Top photo: On August 7, 2019, Jean Louison Miango Makunda, UNICEF Burundi's Communication for Development (C4D) consultant on Ebola preparedness (center) distributes leaflets during an awareness event in Gatumba, Burundi to inform the local community about Ebola virus disease and how to stop it from spreading. © UNICEF/UN0337077/Boujrada