Redefining the Role of Communities in Response to Infectious Disease Outbreak

January 10, 2023

REDEFINING THE ROLE OF COMMUNITIES IN RESPONSE TO INFECTIOUS DISEASE OUTBREAK BY IMPLEMENTING COMMUNITY LED ACTIONS (CLA) IN SIERRA LEONE 

BY JENEBA LAMRANA KAMARA (MSc) 

DATE: 9TH NOVEMBER 2022. 

 A Community Led Action approach (CLA) is one of the three interlinking components of Risk, Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) adapted by GOAL in Sierra Leone to create Social Mobilization Based on Research and Training (SMART) which mainly focuses on redefining the role of communities in response to infectious disease outbreaks. 

GOAL has responded to many emergencies over the last 40 years. During the last outbreaks of Ebola and COVID-19, one of the lessons learnt was to ensure that communities are not just passive recipients but active participants of the response. During the Ebola pandemic in 2014, GOAL with other partners, brought CLA, as part of SMART, to the disease response. It brings together multiple channels for disease communication and community empowerment that can be implemented at scale.  

CLA commenced in March 2022 with deployment of a technical team to the Risk communication and social Mobilization pillar (RCSMP) when the country recorded its first case of COVID-19. The RCSM Pillar activated CLA as the main community engagement platform to contain the spread of the disease among communities in April 2020. Within this same period, there was development of the national CLA manual which was cascaded by 20 national trainers down to 9,300 Community Mobilisers. With the support of other stakeholders (such as UNICEF, Concern Worldwide, and Troicaire), GOAL rolled out CLA across 16 districts in the country to help communities contain the spread of the virus.  

CLA builds on a strong foundation of awareness raising and recognises that communities have the power to stop the spread of COVID-19 through their collective decisions and actions. It enables communities to mobilise by providing information through mass media messaging for the engagement of local community leaders about accurate and proper referral systems. According to one of the community health workers (CHW), “Simple, efficient and relevant approach that can reach communities with clear and consistent messages allowing people to become active participants in the response rather than passive recipient” (Kambia, 2021). 

CLA ensures collaboration and coordination of community mobilisers and partners’ around social behavioral change. This is key, because during COVID-19 there were sudden lockdowns, the need for masks, and a requirement for social distancing. These were vital, and it was important that the community understood what the message meant for them and how they can take different actions and develop a sense of social  cohesion and protection. According to a social mobiliser in Bonthe District 2021, “CLA was beneficial to us as a community in understanding what the information we were receiving meant in terms of personal behavior.” 

 CLA is a strong determinant in achieving GOALs main aim by creating a strong platform for communities to engage health workers and local authorities on movement and health services before, during, and after disease outbreak. It is capable of rapidly identifying problems and responding quickly to the changing phases of outbreaks. According to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General speaking on 11th March 2020, “This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector…… so every sector and every individual must be involved in the fight.” 

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