Arriving in Mamusa village in Port Loko, we are greeted by the rows of houses cordoned off by bright orange plastic fencing. For the past 21 days, 134 people who had come in contact with an Ebola victim have been quarantined in their homes. Today, the fences will come down.
“Not a single person ran away from here,” exclaims Pastor Albat Kamara jubilantly. Pastor Kamara is one of the members of the Mamusa Neighbourhood Watch Group which was established by the Red Cross with the support of UNICEF. The group was formed after a father and son from the community went missing following the death of the boy’s mother from Ebola. “We have a plan to establish Neighbourhood Watch Groups in all the hotspots,” explains Victor Khama, a Sierra Leonean UNICEF field support officer, who helped out the Mamusa group.
The death of the mother spurred Santana, a 27-year-old Ebola survivor fromMamusa, into action. He had received information about the whereabouts of the father and son and let the newly founded Neighbourhood Watch Group know about his plans to travel to a nearby community where the two high-risk Ebola contacts were reportedly hiding. When he arrived in the community, they were nowhere to be found. Santana left his number with the community members and asked them to contact him as soon as they had any further news.
Nine days later, he received a call that the pair had been spotted. Santana returned to the village and found the father and his son scared, hungry and hiding in the bush. After long discussions, he managed to convince them to return to Mamusa. He called 117, the free Ebola hotline, and the two were driven back to the village to be quarantined. Today*, they will be amongst the 134 people to be released healthy from their quarantine.
UNICEF is working under the leadership of Sierra Leone district authorities in Port Loko as well as other partners, such as the World Health Organization, the Sierra Leone Red Cross, Restless Development, Oxfam, DFID and OFDA to establish over 300 Neighbourhood Watch groups in all the Ebola hotspots as well as in communities bordering Guinea. These community-led groups typically include the village head and religious leaders, as well as women and youth group representatives. Members receive an orientation on Ebola prevention, on recognizing the first signs of the disease, and on the actions they can take to keep their community safe. They then monitor the community for travellers and sick people by doing house-to-house visits. Since the Mamusa group was established, they have used 117 to report five suspected Ebola cases, none of which, fortunately, turned out to have contracted the virus.
After Pastor Kamara poses for the group picture with his Muslim counterpart, Imam Mohammed Conteh, and other Neighbourhood Watch group members, he approaches me and says: “You asked me why we formed our group and it is very simple. We formed it because we want to be part of the fight against Ebola and keep Ebola out of Mamusa. We want to do our part in this fight.”
Tommi Laulajainen is a Communications for Development advisor with UNICEF Sierra Leone
*The visit to Mamusa took place on 9 July 2015.