On the Frontlines of Ebola in Liberia

September 30, 2014
Using radio education to help stem the epidemic

Aaron Debah is a nurse in Ganta, Liberia – on the front lines of the Ebola outbreak. As well as serving as Executive Director of Community Action Against Ebola (CAAEB), Debah has also been producing radio shows on health issues for two years.

“Before the Ebola crisis, I discussed a variety of health related topics such as malaria, typhoid, diarrhea, heart conditions, and hygiene on my Healthy Body health talk show and mental health issues – depression, anxiety, PTSD, fear, psychosis, violence, child abuse – on the Hour of Mental Health educational show. Subsequently, in this Ebola crisis, I have been using all air time for Ebola related talk.”

Liberia has recorded 1,830 deaths, around three times as many as in either Guinea or Sierra Leone, the two other most affected countries, according to the World Health Organization.

Debah communicates with his audience through phone calls and SMS text messages. He talks about how to prevent Ebola as well as the government response to the crisis and updates listeners on how the virus is spreading in Liberia as well as in neighboring countries. Debah uses his program to advise government officials and other professionals about the best ways to deal with the epidemic.

Ganta United Methodist Hospital is the only major health facility in Ganta, which is the second largest city next to Monrovia in Liberia. This hospital receives many patients from other counties as well as from Guinea. Prior to Ebola, there were five doctors but now two have been forced to go back to their countries (Democratic Republic of Congo and India) so now there are only three doctors for a city of more than 75,000 inhabitants.  

Because of a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), some health workers are leaving Ganta Hospital due to fear of contacting the virus. Burial teams also face hazards working without PPE.

In a small town near Ganta, a burial team took advantage of a small creek to wash their vehicle and other equipment used in burying. Objections from the local townspeople resulted in conflict, which was later settled by the mayor of Ganta.

“One of the best things to be done to deal with terror is more education,” said Debah. “This can be done through radio talk shows or individual or focus group discussions. Or better still, town hall meetings with villagers.”

Beyond his radio programs, Debah goes out to communities to discuss Ebola prevention practices directly with individuals or groups and encourage those who might be infected to seek medical care.

“Yesterday, I discovered a particular family that survived the virus,” Debah said. “They actually appeared hopeful and joyful for returning from the Ebola Treatment Unit. But after being discharged from treatment, they encountered rejection and stigmatization by community people.”

“The few minutes of interactions with the couple nearly brought tears into my eyes,” he added. “Survivors from the Ebola virus in my mind really need some reintegration back into their communities through formal means so as to avoid people rejecting them. More education is needed on these issues in our society.”

Debah’s health talk shows are broadcast on Voice of Gompa 101.5 MHz, Hot FM 107.9 MHz, and Radio Kergeamahn 94.5 MHz. All these radio stations have a wider coverage beyond Ganta reaching many parts of Nimba and also Guinea which shares a common border with Ganta.

Internews is funding CAAEB to support their existing community education and outreach work to combat Ebola.

See also: PBS story about Debah’s mental health radio show – Healing the psychological scars crippling Liberia in the wake of civil war.