(From left to right) Sierra Leone’s Ebola Crisis Manager Bintou Keita, UN Women Representative Mary Okumu, and Acting Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Head of UN UNMEER Peter Graaff — all in yellow attires in support of push towards zero Ebla.
Photo: UN Women/Emma Vincent
Sierra Leonean female journalists, under the umbrella ‘Women in the Media Sierra Leone’ (WIMSAL), have injected fresh energy into efforts to end Ebola in their country following the 27 April kickoff of their “Getting Ebola to Zero and Staying at Zero” campaign. The campaign highlights the role of women as leaders in eradicating the disease.
The Ebola Crisis Manager for the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) in Sierra Leone, Ms. Bintou Keita, described WIMSAL’s effort as “a crucial part of the national Ebola Virus Disease response.” Ms. Keita said that in the final push towards ending Ebola, “the role of women becomes even more important. They are the community and family leaders, the caregivers and organizers.”
The “Getting Ebola to Zero and Staying at Zero” campaign builds on the existing Yellow Ribbon Campaign by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), but this time with a greater focus on engagement with communities as well as youth, religious and women leaders. WIMSAL is supported by UNMEER through UN Women, the UN entity for gender equality and women’s empowerment.
To demonstrate commitment to eradicating Ebola, WIMSAL is encouraging people to wear yellow clothing every Friday, a move that has gained momentum nationwide. “We want to highlight the need for women to be understood and seen as catalytic stakeholders and agents of change, which makes them best suited to lead the way to drive Ebola out of Sierra Leone,” said Dr. Mary Okumu, the country’s UN Women Representative.
At the inaugural event, which was simulcast on radio stations nationwide, women shared their experiences on how Ebola had affected them. The kickoff was followed by a grand launch on 2 May at the Radisson Blue Hotel in Freetown, where key stakeholders — including Ms. Naasu Fofana, the Gender Advisor to the President of Sierra Leone and Chair of UNMEER Advisory Board, and Mr. Mustafa Atila, the Deputy Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, — emphasized the need for women to help lead efforts to end Ebola.
Through a strong commitment from everyday Sierra Leoneans and efforts by partners, including the UN family and other international organizations, “impressive results have been achieved, but the goal is to get to zero and stay at zero,” said Ms. Nathalie Leroy, UNMEER Chief of Staff, who represented the Ebola Crisis Manager at the grand launch.
The President of SLAJ, Mr. Kelvin Lewis, welcomed the added value that women’s leadership brought to the campaign, and said that people were generally frustrated from not yet seeing the end of the disease.
Sierra Leone is inching closer to zero with three confirmed cases in nine days. This is the country’s lowest number of new infections per week since the epidemic began.
The Yellow Ribbon Campaign encourages Sierra Leonean women to stimulate discussions around Ebola within their families and communities. It also urges communities to make personal pledges and commit to concrete actions on how they can contribute to stemming the spread. Community engagement started in the districts on Friday, 15 May, with representatives of Ebola-free districts traveling to still affected ones to share their experiences.
After Liberia was declared Ebola-free on 9 May, Sierra Leone and Guinea are the two remaining countries affected by the outbreak. While the rate of transmission in both countries has considerably declined and is limited to a few locations, the objective is to get to zero ahead of the rainy season.