Many of my people in Liberia knew the health system was not in good shape before the Ebola epidemic. Public health facilities were already poorly equipped and staffed. By the time the Ebola outbreak was identified in March 2014, most Liberians did not believe that it was very deadly – because of both misinformation and missing information. When we all realized how deadly the epidemic was, and how it disproportionately affected women and girls, it had already reached the far corners of Liberia.
According to UN Women, authorities in Liberia estimate that 75% of their Ebola fatalities are women. Due to cultural and traditional practices combined with gender roles and norms in West Africa, women and girls have a higher risk of being victims of the Ebola outbreak. There are no known biological differences that would make women more susceptible to contracting or dying from Ebola. Instead, the main difference is that women’s role as caregivers puts them at a higher risk of contracting the virus.  This reality, combined with poor public health messaging, has put women at the center of the epidemic.
In April and May, when the outbreak began to spin out of control, I started asking myself: How did this happen? Why did the government of Liberia not do robotic and strong media coverage to prevent the spread of the Ebola Virus? And where is the rest of the world?
I had to do something.
Drawing on my experience leading awareness and sensitization campaigns on sexually transmitted diseases, I, along with many of my colleagues, decided to address the public health crisis through the best media tool we have available – radio. (According to a recent United Nations Humanitarian Crisis Report, literacy levels in Liberia – especially amongst women and girls- is 27.0%. With this in mind, it is important that health messaging be communicated through the appropriate channels so that it can be understood by all.)
I began interviewing health experts and putting together “jingles” on One Liberia Advocacy Radio, an independent and non-governmental online radio station that I started made up of local female and international journalists. I wanted to draw attention to the disaster and educate people about prevention, what makes them vulnerable to the virus and how to deal with its consequences – not when medical help arrived, but now.
Since the state of emergency, this type of media has provided a means of entertainment and relief during a fearful and panicked situation. Most Liberians are now glued to their radios (and computers – where accessible) for updates on the situations.
During one of these interviews, National Red Cross Ebola Coordinator Neima Amara-Candy expressed what I believe to be the most urgent call to women in all countries affected by the epidemic:
“Women…should continue to fight, they shouldn’t give up. If you give up we will be doomed, and we will be headed for trouble… But we have to prevent ourselves. In as much as we want to help we have to be safe first before giving help.”
Listen to the full interview below:
More could have been done to help stop spread the Ebola virus. It is more evident than ever that knowing your audience and responding with tools and messages that are appropriate to their settings is critical. So in this time of my nation’s greatest crisis, given the resources at hand, I am contributing in my small way and trying to inform, educate and spread the word about how to save a life.