Kick Ebola Out

KickEbolaOut campaign, is a global medical student led initiative in the fight against the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in Sierra Leone and it was pioneered by the Sierra Leone Medical Students’ Association (SLeMSA). In December 2013, West Africa was hit by the worst EVD epidemic leading to significant mortality and devastation of local communities.

The campaign started with medical students doing house-to-house health awareness campaigns in communities and also online via the ‘KickEbolaOut’ mobile phone App. The work expanded by education and food support of orphans who had lost parents to the outbreak.

KickEbolaOut embarked on health campaigns to control the outbreak through spreading important preventive messages about EVD and dispelling myths that prevented many from seeking medical attention due to fear and stigma.

Many people initially did not believe Ebola was real and were not following prevention guidelines. Some thought the advent of EVD was for political gains.

CAMPAIGN OBJECTIVES

EVD prevention awareness campaign:
1. To educate communities about how to prevent infection with EVD.
2. To distribute promotional materials on EVD and teach proper hand washing.
3. To train medical students on how to do public outreach programs.
4. To prevent further spread of Ebola virus.

Orphan support project:
1. To facilitate schooling of orphans who have reached school-age but have not started their studies.
2. To distribute learning materials such as books, workbooks, pencils, and pens.
3. To provide school uniforms, shoes, bags.
4. To distribute soap and teach hand washing for infection control.

KickEbolaOut App:
1. To create an easy accessible, user-friendly eLearning platform about EVD clinical and public health knowledge.

HOW THE OBJECTIVES WERE ACHIEVED

The awareness campaign started with training of medical students on how to conduct proper public education by Ministry of Health representatives. This was followed by the awareness campaigns in communities in Freetown. Medical students went from house-to-house and stall-to-stall and spoke to small retailers about the EVD signs and symptoms, preventive guidelines, hand washing and chlorine solution preparation.

The App was created via a partnership between IFMSA, CRIMEDIM and SLeMSA. The content of the App was developed by members of the KickEbolaOut team with support from leading publications. The technical aspect of the App was provided by CRIMEDIM – an Italian disaster response organization.

The orphan care work started by identification of orphans in communities with the highest mortality. Basic information such as age, height, shoe size and information about intended school of attendance was collected. Specialised care boxes were then prepared and presented to the orphans.

CAMPAIGN INNOVATIONS

Collaboration: Medical students based in Sierra Leone were able to mobilize medical students associations from across the globe to do fundraising and provide technical support. Partnership with CRIMEDIM facilitated the App development.
Social Media: Social Media was used not only to spread EVD preventive information but also to crowd fund the project’s activities on the ground.
Rapport: Medical students established rapport with community members in order to establish trust and confidence before giving guidelines.
E-learning: A mobile phone App was used in a public health emergency to reach thousands of people and to provide accurate EVD prevention information.
Speed: The group was also one of the first to provide assistance to orphans.

CAMPAIGN IMPACT

The community awareness campaign was able to reach 50,000 people in Sierra Leone. The orphan care boxes could be provided to 32 orphan children in Sierra Leone.

The campaign worked with hundreds of medical students overseas to mobilize fund. Some countries that actively took part include Switzerland, Canada, Japan, Brazil and Spain.

The campaign also expanded the distribution of the health messages via social media since the ‘KickEbolaOut’ App was downloaded by medical students and other community members.

Through the campaign, medical students participated in EVD surge capacity building training and was recruited into the Government's EVD response.

Overall, the ‘KickEbolaOut’ campaign provided a significant contribution in the fight against the EVD outbreak as more people started following EVD prevention guidelines and the number of new EVD cases reduced.

Orphans who lost their parents got a new hope to continue their education for a sustainable future.

CHALLENGES FACED

Risk: EVD is a new disease. The biggest challenge was the risk of contracting EVD as medical students entered communities, handed over EVD promotional materials and could contract EVD from anyone in the public. However, appropriate and strict guidelines of no contact and maintaining distance when talking were implemented and the sensitizing team was monitored to follow these guidelines.

Funds: When the EVD outbreak started, the Sierra Leone medical students could not get any form of support from the Ministry of Health in Sierra Leone as they were already exhausted. Innovation, social media and international collaborations via IFMSA helped in raising funds via a crowd funding page and through donations.

Capacity building: Local medical students lacked capacity in terms of online communication, project writing, fund raising, and community awareness. Through the programme, a significant number of medical students were trained and developed valuable skills.

LESSONS LEARNT

An outbreak management project requires significant innovation, risk taking and effective coordination to run all operations and facilitating information exchanges.

A crisis communication plan is needed to ensure that a crisis communication structure is active during an emergency, with key messages crafted and delivered to target audience in order to inform and encourage desired behaviours.

Community ownership, participation, and engagement to social mobilisation efforts are widely recognised, accepted, and affirmed through this exercise.

Partnerships and collaborations is a key to successful project outcome.

Mobilise and harness the energy of volunteers and change-makers in any institution.