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IRC Community-Partnership Approach Helps Reduce Ebola Spread in Targeted West African Communities; David Miliband in Region to Meet with Staff and Community Leaders, Encourage International NGOs to Embrace Effective Community-Partnership Approach.

- David Miliband meets with Liberian and Sierra Leonean community leaders, aid workers, key responders and IRC Staff; pledges to extend IRC Ebola-focused operations this fall with new treatment center

- Says NGOs must increase collaboration with community organizations and leaders -- community leadership a key element of successful efforts to reduce the number of new cases in Lofa County, Liberia, and Kenema District, Sierra Leone.

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, Oct. 9, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Visiting the region today, International Rescue Committee (IRC) president and CEO David Miliband said that while the pledges of increased numbers of beds are important, the key to success in the battle against Ebola is community-led engagement to identify, isolate and treat cases.

The IRC, which has been working in Liberia and Sierra Leone for more than 15 years, is leading consortiums in both countries that are committed to bringing the Ebola crisis to an end. Leveraging its network, the organization will expand its operations to include an Ebola treatment center in Monrovia, Liberia, this fall.

"The IRC recognizes the urgent need for more treatment facilities, effective surveillance and strong coordination which is why we are ramping up our response," said Miliband. "That said, the key strategy for prevention is to put more resources into the hands of community leaders to prevent the spread of the disease. In West Africa, grassroots organizing has never been more crucial. This is literally a matter of life and death. Community-led response moves the needle."

Miliband pointed out that with the opening of the emergency treatment unit in Monrovia, the IRC will be supporting Ebola response efforts across all fronts: treatment; surveillance; NGO coordination; and community engagement through effective partnerships between the IRC, community, and other agencies, that have shown an impact to reduce the spread of the disease in Lofa County, Liberia, and Kenema District, Sierra Leone. He encouraged humanitarian aid organizations to embrace similar comprehensive strategies as "the way forward" in combating the spread of Ebola.

International responders know they need to rely on communities to prevent the spread of the disease, but their approach is misguided: communities are seen as needing to spread messages designed by others and put in place plans made by others. To be more effective, community-led initiatives for prevention, along with high-quality treatment and epidemiological work, must be a basic pillar of the Ebola response.

"From the IRC's work with communities in affected areas, they have learned that key community leaders are feeling ignored and have in many cases stopped attending planning meetings because they aren't being listened to," said Miliband. "This is a mistake."

The IRC has been at the forefront of the fight to combat the spread of Ebola since the first cases were diagnosed in Liberia and Sierra Leone in March. Working with area partners, the IRC has since trained over 2,000 community health workers in contact tracing, surveillance and awareness building.

Lofa County, Liberia, demonstrates promise of community engagement

In Lofa County the IRC's response is driven by Liberian Emmanuel Boyah, a man who knows this community by heart. Boyah and his team, working with the Ministry of Health, have worked with more than 250 community leaders.

"We have met mid-wives who are using plastic bags to protect themselves during child delivery," said Boyah. "While this certainly demonstrates their resourcefulness as they try to limit the spread of this virus, we must do better. If local communities were given the resources they need to respond to this crisis, such a make-shift approach would not be necessary."

There is a long way to go in the fight to eliminate Ebola. The IRC knows, from more than a decade of experience in Liberia and Sierra Leone, that local community leaders have the influence and the cultural knowledge to make Ebola control a reality at every level of society. They need to be listened to and they need the support of the international community.

The IRC was the first organization to prioritize the importance of protection for Sierra Leonean community health workers. According to the World Health Organization, more than 57% of health workers who have contracted the virus have died. The IRC's model for infection protection and control in Kenema District is now being scaled up by the national government in efforts to halt the spread of this lethal virus.

Kenema District, Sierra Leone, transmission rates decline

Also in Sierra Leone, the IRC works with local community leaders in Kenema District to engage with communities in ways to prevent infection and establish protocols for what to do when someone in their family comes down with the virus. Notably, the transmission of the Ebola virus is down in Kenema District from a high of 49 cases in July to five cases in early October.

SOURCE International Rescue Committee
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Date:Oct 9, 2014
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