American Jewish World Service Is Supporting Grassroots Public Health Efforts to Combat Ebola in Liberia

Answering the call from Liberian Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Leymah Gbowee, AJWS is providing funds to trusted non-medical Liberian activists and community leaders working to educate their communities and stop the spread of Ebola

(New York, Oct. 22) — American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is funding grassroots groups in Liberia that are responding to the Ebola outbreak through public health campaigns that rely on trusted non-medical community leaders to spread the word about preventing infection. AJWS is currently supporting 10 community-based organizations in Liberia that are deploying networks of religious leaders, women’s groups and media organizations, including community radio stations, to educate Liberians about how they can prevent infection with the virus and seek appropriate medical care.

“At a time when trust in the health care system and health professionals in Liberia is nearly non-existent, deploying trusted non-medical community leaders to educate local communities about how they can protect themselves from Ebola is a crucial strategy in combating and containing the outbreak,” said Ruth Messinger, president of AJWS, the leading Jewish international aid organization working to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world.

“In August, I received a direct personal appeal for help from my friend and colleague, Leymah Gbowee, a longtime AJWS grantee in Liberia who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. At Leymah’s urging, we immediately reached out to the groups we support in Liberia and asked them what they needed most urgently to combat Ebola,” said Messinger. “Our grantees told us that their most pressing need is to address the fear and misinformation about Ebola—to quell the panic in their communities and to teach people about how to protect themselves from infection.”

AJWS has long supported community groups in Liberia, some of which played a significant role in ending the country’s bloody civil war in 2003 and, since that time, have worked to strengthen democracy in Liberia. Since August, AJWS has raised nearly $300,000 to support these groups and aims to raise another $700,000 in the coming weeks. AJWS’s funds are being used primarily for raising awareness at the community level and providing training, sanitation materials and protective gear to those carrying out the outreach. Community education is a complementary public health strategy that does not replace biomedical interventions.

In Liberia, AJWS’s Ebola response grantees are using effective, grassroots methods for educating people in a linguistically diverse country with high rates of illiteracy and many people living in remote, rural areas. Those methods include radio broadcasts tailored to local languages; going door-to-door to share facts about the virus and teach people how to sanitize their homes; working with community, tribal and religious leaders to raise awareness; and collaborating with Liberia’s County Health Teams and Ebola Task Forces to ensure a coordinated response.

Since the outbreak in West Africa began, there have been more than 9,100 confirmed, probable or suspected cases of Ebola, with more than 2,800 deaths in Liberia. The fatality rate is 50-60 percent, and the World Health Organization has warned that, by the end of 2014, there could be an estimated 10,000 new cases of Ebola per week in West Africa if the epidemic is not controlled.

AJWS has supported grassroots organizations working to advance human rights in Liberia for more than a decade.

Full list of AJWS grantees in Liberia responding to the outbreak

  • The Mano River Women’s Peace Network (MARWOPNET) is using its community radio station to spread messages about Ebola prevention and ways to seek help for suspected Ebola infections in northern Liberia.
  • The Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa is engaging community-based organizations and rural media organizations to carry out a public education campaign to limit the spread of Ebola, including distribution of hygiene materials.
  • Southeastern Women Development Association (SEWODA) is training staff and peace committee members in both preventing and responding to Ebola and conducting community outreach in Maryland, River Gee, and Grand Kru counties.
  • Grassroots Agency for Social Services (GRASS) is proactively disseminating information about Ebola among communities in Grand Bassa County.
  • Bassa Women Development Association (BAWODA) is focusing on women and children as the people most at risk for infection with Ebola in Grand Bassa County, and is training and equipping volunteers who will conduct community education efforts. BAWODA is working through religious groups and institutions such as Sunday schools to spread messages about preventing infection with Ebola.
  • West Africa Network for Peacebuilding Liberia (WANEP) is conducting an awareness campaign around Ebola prevention and treatment in Margibi, Lofa, and Bong counties, and is training and equipping volunteers who will target over 3,000 households with information and hygiene promotion materials.
  • Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI) is conducting an awareness campaign and is training staff and volunteers who will in turn target about 7,000 households and public institutions in Rivercess County with information and hygiene promotion materials.
  • Imani House International is renovating part of its clinic to be able to act as an Ebola quarantine and triage center, and is continuing to provide much needed primary care services in light of the collapse of the local health care systems in and around Brewerville, an underserved community near Monrovia.
  • The Development Education Network-Liberia (DEN-L) is conducting an Ebola awareness raising campaign and improving community coordination and response, targeting 11,000 households in Bong County, Liberia, targeting women as well as other CSOs and community surveillance teams for engagement.
  • Committee for Peace and Development Advocacy (COPDA) is engaging tribal and religious leaders on Ebola prevention and awareness, training and equipping staff and volunteers to conduct a door-to-door sensitization campaign targeting 6,000 individuals, and is providing psychosocial support and counseling to survivors of Ebola and their families, in Nimba County.

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