As of May 2017, there have been over 39 disease outbreaks documented throughout Africa – most of them in West and Central Africa.
Given the importance of implementing effective social and behavior change activities to control the spread of these outbreaks, the West Africa Health Organization (WAHO) and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) invited the Health Communication Capacity Collaborative (HC3), USAID’s flagship social and behavior change communication (SBCC) project to share risk communication tools and experiences at a joint WAHO-WHO-UNDP four-day workshop in Abuja, Nigeria on Tuesday, July 11. The workshop focused on building capacity around epidemic and pandemic risk communication for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region.
In the discussion of ongoing risk communication needs, it became clear that many countries need to develop general risk communication plans, include gender considerations in the plans and identify resources to ensure risk communication activities are sustained.
I attended the meeting, and shared the project’s experiences in several West African countries conducting Ebola virus disease (EVD) control, preparedness and recovery activities. Colleagues from Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea attending the workshop acknowledged the quality of tools produced and technical assistance provided by HC3 and expressed gratitude that HC3 had been invited to share the tools with the 15 ECOWAS country representatives, partners and organizers. I also provided an overview of the SBCC Emergency Helix as well as country-level examples and invited participants to explore HC3’s online resources, including Springboard for Health Communication Professionals and the Catalog of Project Tools and Resources for SBCC.
The workshop also gave me an opportunity to hear specific feedback on HC3’s efforts during the Ebola outbreak. The team from Sierra Leone, including Dr. A. J. Moosa from Disease Prevention and Control, Harold Thomas from the Ministry of Health, and Ousmane Kabia from WHO, all shared their appreciation for HC3’s technical assistance in developing the National Health Promotion Strategy. Representatives from the Liberia, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire Ministries of Health also spoke highly of HC3’s technical assistance. All mentioned that HC3 tackled work that was critical to EVD control, post-Ebola recovery and even preparedness efforts.
Requests for further support were fielded, and it was recommended that Ministries of Health contact USAID to request technical support for risk communication. For example, representatives from Sierra Leone team asked for assistance on the current Lassa Fever outbreak in the Mano River countries. Côte d’Ivoire has also requested support from HC3 for technical SBCC support in their response to a current dengue outbreak.
It is clear that SBCC will help build links between health service delivery and communities, and build more resilient populations in the face of ongoing and future public health threats. HC3 is looking forward to working with partners to implement and build capacity around risk communication that will save lives.