Liberia was announced Ebola free by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Saturday, marking a significant milestone in the fight against the deadly virus in West Africa. Over a year after the first cases were confirmed it is a time to celebrate and recognise those on the frontline stopping the spread, while not forgetting that the outbreak continues across the borders in Sierra Leone and Guinea.
There is no doubt that young community members trained as Ebola peer educators have played a vital role in fighting the spread of the disease in communities across Liberia. These young people have worked tirelessly, supported by our fantastic in-country partner Liberia YMCA, to increase understanding about Ebola and encourage life-saving behaviour change. Information ensured people understood the symptoms of Ebola, knew what to do if they experienced them, and how they could prevent spreading it to others. Over the last few months YMCA peer educators personally reached more than 40,000 people with vital information about Ebola across the country.
Josiah, a peer educator in West Point, the capital’s biggest slum, said: “During the Ebola outbreak, it was like an unseen enemy. You didn’t know who might be an ‘enemy’, is it the person next to you? It was a difficult time. Especially in West Point where it is highly populated and congested. What worried me the most was you didn’t know who would be next. It could be your child, your mother, you. And there is no cure, it was very scary.
I became a peer educator personally because the YMCA work with young people all over the country and I joined YMCA as a youth representative of West Point. YMCA thought young people must be involved in the emergency response so we can do our part to minimise and eradicate Ebola by talking to our peers and others.”
As the reasons for sustained transmission evolved through the outbreak, so did the peer educator’s messaging. These inspiring young people have more recently been active in their communities in challenging stigma of survivors of Ebola; Jenneh survived Ebola and became a peer educator herself, read her story here.
Edward Gboe, National General Secretary of Liberia YMCA said today: “If there were any greater defence in the fight against Ebola, it was awareness. The crucial role played by our young peer educators in promoting awareness on the prevention of Ebola infection and the management of Ebola cases helped our country to get the results we are celebrating today. How telling the results when young people are developed and deployed for the right cause.”
However, the fight is not over. Peer educators continue to ensure people are not complacent about the Ebola-free announcement, and that their communities remain vigilant and continue to practice good hygiene such as hand-washing.
The impacts of Ebola have been far-reaching for young people and their communities and we will continue to work with YMCAs in West Africa to help them to rebuild their lives. Thank you for your donations to our Ebola Outbreak Emergency Appeal. Thank you to YMCAs across the UK, and Nationwide, Kent Reliance, The Coventry, Cumberland, Virgin Money, Cambridge, Progressive, and Loughborough building societies for your valuable support collecting donations.