Supporting African Communities in this Ebola Crisis

The Ebola crisis reminds us in many ways of the beginning of the HIV and AIDS epidemic that communities had to face with limited resources. Because the health system is overwhelmed by the challenges Ebola presents, communities are not only in the front lines, but also the backbone of the response. As news of the Ebola crisis emerged, we knew that we wanted to support communities. Our partners work in East and Southern Africa so we looked to our peers for a way to reach communities with strategic, coordinated efforts responding to Ebola.

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Sometimes the best response is to support others already present in the area with their local knowledge and familiarity with the context. That's why we recently made a $5,000 grant to American Jewish World Service, AJWS, because they’ve been funding community groups in West Africa for years and their relationships with their grantee partners enable them to make strong decisions in an area they are invested in for the long term.

We're learning that Ebola is affecting children in the same way HIV did—by creating a new generation of orphans who face stigma, isolation, and poverty. While some extended family members are caring for more children, others are reluctant to come forward to claim relatives for fear of infection. The stigma of Ebola largely arises from the fact that the disease is passed on through contact with bodily fluids. Those who have suffered from the disease or who have lost a parent to it are shunned for fear they may pass on the virus.

Similar to HIV, the emphasis on an effective response is community based. Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health, and his Chief Medical Officer, Joia Mukherjee, recently wrote an OpED in the Boston Globe, reflecting on the current situation of the Ebola crisis. Their key message: community care could, when coupled with infection control, stop the epidemic. Partners in Health is joining forces with two community-based health care delivery organizations, Wellbody Alliance and Last Mile Health, to combat the disease. They are applying lessons that PIH has learned from working with other infectious disease—that community-based care, delivered in large part by community health workers, is not only safer than facility-based care, but also more effective.

The WHO also notes that community engagement is key to successfully controlling outbreaks. Good outbreak control relies on applying a package of interventions, namely case management, surveillance and contact tracing, a good laboratory service, safe burials, and social mobilization. Early supportive care with rehydration and symptomatic treatment improves survival.

For more information, check out these sources:

After Losing Parents to Ebola Orphans Face Stigma

One woman's story about her efforts to save her family

Another great opportunity to respond: Open IDEO challenge: Fighting Ebola

Our NewsFlash with resources and information about Ebola