Can tailored, culturally sensitive communication efforts help prevent the spread of an epidemic? Recent research from Cogent Medicine highlights the key role of interpersonal, face-to-face communication in halting the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Sierra Leone during 2014, and also how sociocultural factors may have rendered some mass media efforts less helpful by contrast.
Collecting qualitative data before and after intervention, policy analyst Samuel Dilito Turay (founder of Hands for Life, Sierra Leone) assisted a rural community in Sierra Leone by spreading awareness of the disease through face-to-face, culturally sensitive interactions. He and his team anticipated that more than 80% of those they worked with would be willing to take protective action against EVD. In fact, fewer than 45% understood prevalent media communications (including television, radio, and newspaper messaging) on EVD, due to language and cultural barriers, meaning that key precautionary guidelines were being ignored, or resisted.
Recognising the need to address longstanding sociocultural practices, as well as support affected families, Turay and his team advocated public health guidelines as beneficial for communities in the long term, using culturally sensitive measures to improve awareness and by addressing local elders recognised as ‘opinion leaders’. Soap, drinking water and hygiene supplies were also provided, since these had not been reaching some areas due to quarantine restrictions. More than 90% understood the same health guidelines better as a result of this approach.
Turay concludes, however, that both mass media and interpersonal communication are important means of spreading awareness. Mass media may reach the widest audience with vital information in the shortest time, whilst interpersonal support can create clarity, confidence and trust for positive change. A significant case study, this research offers guidance for health educators, government officials and activists exploring how best to share information and prevent the spread of a future epidemic.
(Source: Cogent Medicine)