With support from the British Red Cross, the Sierra Leone Red Cross has been running a community-based health programme for more than two decades.
Its scope has grown to reach across the country, but the programme continues to be community orientated and led by local, trained Red Cross volunteers.
The programme’s aim is to educate communities about health issues and keep people safe from disease outbreaks.
The Red Cross works alongside local people so they have the skills and knowledge to manage their own health care.
Trained volunteers educate their peers about how to prevent and treat diseases. Simple but crucial information, such as washing hands, can be vital in preventing the spread of disease.
Red Cross volunteers carry out home visits on a monthly basis to share information on good health practice and to make people aware of local health care facilities.
Community meetings help to raise awareness of health issues and treatments. Health campaigns are also organised to ensure children are immunised against diseases such as polio and measles.
With literacy rates low – 48 per cent among the total population – the health programme makes use of different styles of learning, such as pictures, drama and quiz competitions.
Women are usually responsible for the well-being of their families, so it is important they know how to prevent diseases, spot symptoms and treat illnesses.
As such, mothers’ clubs offer support on issues such as reproductive health, which is particularly important given that Sierra Leone has one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world.
Fathers’ clubs also encourage men to take part in community health care. This could involve preparing land for gardening or keeping roads clear from hazards such as snakes and stagnant water where mosquitos breed.
The Ebola outbreak showed how vital community engagement is to overcome health emergencies.
This underpins our work in trying to ensure that another Ebola outbreak – or any other disease outbreak – is not repeated.
Trained Red Cross volunteers monitor community gatherings to spot any signs of disease among locals.
They act as an early warning system and can point people towards further medical treatment if needed.
They also trace people who may have come into contact with an infected person to prevent further cases.
Ebola survivors and their families can face stigma. So we are educating communities to ensure that survivors and their families can resume their lives without facing stigma.