In recent weeks, it has not been easy for the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS) and many other groups and organizations, who are trying to help combat the Ebola epidemic. The many mixed messages coming from many groups in Freetown and the provinces (is even worse in the provinces) have not been helpful; in fact, it has been the main source of problems leading some people to be in denial of Ebola, while others question the sources of the messages. In Bo and Kenema, people are calling radio stations to complain about them not understanding some of the technical terms being used in jingles, talk shows and newspapers. There are many jokes now about Ebola. And usually when people trivialize a national health emergency issue like this, then it means the message (s) is problematic. The WHO, UNICEF, CONCERN, Action Aid, NP and many others have helped or still helping with expertise and many other resources but the messages are still not sinking in. According to the MoHS’ own daily update, the death toll is rising and the reported number of cases of Ebola is increasing in number and expanding to other places.
The MoHS and its many outreach groups or partners have come under sustained barrage of public spanking (verbally though), bad press, expressed public discontent and poor professional reviews of the uncoordinated and unclear advocacy and professional health communication works in addressing the Ebola outbreak. Awoko believes that this is a national problem and the country needs all the resources, including expert Sierra Leoneans and foreigners, and good messages it can get to fight it, but our efforts must be well coordinated, targeted and clear.
In Bo, yesterday, Awoko newspaper attended a-one day training for 22 volunteers of a local NGO on Health Communication: How to Fight the Ebola Disease Viral Using Communication for Behavioral Impact (COMBI). The facilitator, Dr. Victor Massaquoi, told the volunteers that COMBI is a new concept and has emerged as a critical and functional support tool to the clinical and medical efforts of the MoHS. This tool with many sub tools have the capacity to address any public health emergency (virus or disease) in terms of promotion, advocacy, sensitization, health education and community and resources mobilization and behavior impact measurement.
Speaking to AWOKO, in a post training interview, albeit reluctantly, Dr. Victor Massaquoi, a specialist in Organizational Management, Communication for Social Development & Policy Analysis, and one of the two Sierra Leonean COMBI trained specialists, described the concept as “effective and uncomplicated” adding that it has been applied in few other countries around the world like Sudan, Vietnam, India and others. “I have applied COMBI in Sierra Leone,” he said.
He noted to apply COMBI in the fight against Ebola, there has to be a clear, consistent and professionally coordinated communication strategy with the following elements: the goal, specific behavioral impact objectives-what behavior you’d like to quickly impact at the end, a situational analysis, HICDARM, M-RIP and MS. CREFS. He stressed that “COMBI is one step higher than the basic Behavior Change Communication approaches. COMBI training is a six weeks course coordinated by and organized at the New York University in the USA, supported by the World Health Organization. Ends!
By Our Health Correspondent
Tuesday July 15, 2014