Image: UNMEER/Martine Perret | Flickr
In 2017, the Journal of Health Communication: International Perspectives published a special issue dedicated to the role of community engagement, communication, and social mobilisation during and after the response to the Ebola outbreak in 2014-15.
Since this outbreak, the UN Global Health Crises Take Force has stipulated that communities should be engaged in all activities related to serious public health events, including preparedness, detection, response, research, and prevention. Community engagement must therefore be seen as essential and ongoing; it cannot cease once a crisis has been resolved.
The articles in this special issue are relevant to a broad range of public health practitioners. Some of their observations and recommendations include:
Communities should be ‘regarded as experts in their own culture, and as sources of solutions and innovation’
‘Communication is most effective when information is conveyed by individuals who are known and trusted by communities, and when communication channels encourage participatory dialogue’
Literacy, language, and access to technology should be taken into account when making efforts to reach marginalised or out-of-reach communities
“The engagement and inclusion of people, and of their communities, is a vital element of any public health strategy.” (Nabarro 2017)
A full list of articles in this supplement:
Figueroa looks at the value of theory-based frameworks in outbreak situations, and argues that they are important tools for guiding research and designing health communication activities.
Sastry and Dutta’s essay puts forward a culture-centred approach to effective health communication in public health crises, as an effective listening-paradigm for developing authentic, ethical, and effective practice.
Berman et al. explore the use of SMS-based surveys in guiding the communication responses Ebola. They conclude that SMS surveys are useful for providing answers within large research processes when the demand for a quick emergency response is high.
Lee-wan et al. use focus group discussions to explore community knowledge, attitudes, and practices towards safe and dignified burials in Sierra Leone. Participants suggest that opportunities for community members to participate in safe and dignified burials would improve community acceptance.
Carter et al. analyse the findings of a qualitative research study conducted by Oxfam during the Ebola epidemic that aimed to understand barriers and enablers affecting treatment-seeking behaviour. As a result, they argue that community outreach approaches must aim to understand the underlying causes of behaviour in order to address barriers, and improving community engagement and participation plays a major role in this.
Pedi et al. analyse the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for community engagement and social mobilisation in Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak. The article aims to explain the rationale for these SOPs, describe the methodology used to develop them, and discuss their implications for future outbeak responses.
Roberts et al. analyse the online media and public response to the Ebola epidemic in 2014 and explore whether the digitally networked public may have influenced the discourse, sentiment, and response to the epidemic.
Abramowitz et al. analyse findings from a community-based qualitative research initiative studying the content of Ebola-related communications (especially prevention and response measures) in Liberia. They explore whether these led to changes in beliefs and practices, and how they have implications for community engagement.
Carter et al. analyse the perceived impact of Community Care Centres (CCCs) (designed to increase treatment-seeking behaviour and reduce community-level spread of Ebola) during the 2014 epidemic. They found that the proximity of CCCs: reduced people’s fears, meant they were more easily accessible, and enabled communities to be involved in their design/operation.
Capps et al. explore the correlation between communities in Lofa County, Liberia, certified as Open Defecation Free (ODF) and implementing community-led total sanitation (CLTS); and the number of Ebola Virus Disease cases.
Bedford et al. analyse the use of community engagement and social mobilisation activities, developed during the Ebola response, in a national polio, measles, and deworming campaign in Liberia in 2015. They explore community perceptions of routine immunization in a post-Ebola context.
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