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Ebola Hasn't Reached the Gambia, and People Are Working to Keep It That Way

Categories: Sub-Saharan Africa, Gambia, Citizen Media, Health
The logo of #EbolaFreeGambia campaign. Image source: #EbolaFreeGambia Facebook page.

The logo of #EbolaFreeGambia campaign. Image source: #EbolaFreeGambia Facebook page.

Efforts in the tiny West African state of the Gambia, which hasn't been affected by the devastating Ebola outbreak, are being intensified to protect the country from the deadly virus.

As of 31 August, nearly 1,900 people in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone have died, according  [1]to the World Health Organisation. Following the confirmation of the first Ebola case in Senegal [2], the Gambia's immediate neighbour, concerns soared over the country's preparedness and public awareness about the disease. The confirmation created widespread fear [3] among the Gambians because of the closeness of Senegal to Gambia and porous borders between the two countries. 

A coalition of civil society in the Gambia have launched Ebola Free Gambia [4] to try and keep the country Ebola free. Its Facebook page [5], created on the 30 August, has over 2,900 likes.

A description of the coalition on its website says:

In light of the proximity of Gambia to the Ebola infected areas, there is a pressing need for immediate action to arrest the possible spread of Ebola into The Gambia by sensitizing the population about the nature of the disease, how it is spread and how to avoid being infected. The Government of the Gambia from the onset of the outbreak in West Africa has taken some steps to protect our country from Ebola. The impact of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa already having dire economic consequences to the Gambia not to mention the potential health implications if the disease were to spread into the Gambia.

The campaign complements government's efforts by raising awareness about preparedness, prevention and response using their website, YouTube videos, Facebook and sensitization drives around the country.

Watch one of the campaign's YouTube video below:

Meanwhile, on 11 September the US Embassy in Banjul in collaboration with Gambian artists launched a song [6] dedicated to the crusade against Ebola [7]. “The Ebola Song” features musicians Tra, Badibunka, Cess Ngum, Killa ACE, & Sandeng, and Amadou Sussocebook [8]. Listen to it below:

The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in Banjul has already established a 24-hour information hotline from any network within the country. #EbolaFreeGambia campaign is different from the efforts by the Ministry of Health to sensitize Gambians.

The news of first Ebola case in Senegal prompted Gambian Facebook user Arfang Jobe to suggest that [9] mobile phone companies partner with the Ministry of Health to send text messages to raise awareness about the disease.

Commenting on the suggestion, Hassan Njie cautioned [10]:

The last thing we want is to send fear into the minds of Gambians. The messages must be tailor made for easy understanding. People interpret and react to information differently. Let us be on our guard!

Kb Bojang advised [11]:

I think it will be great too, if they can send voice mails in the different languages we have, to their respective customers with regards to Ebola preventive measures, because I doubt everyone will be able to read the text messages

Mobile phone companies have started sending Ebola related messages to subscribers. However, It is not clear whether this initiative is the direct result of the Ebola free campaign on social media.

In August, researchers at Oxford University announced [12] that they will begin a trial of a potential vaccine on healthy UK volunteers once ethical approval is granted, which will eventually extend to the Gambia and Mali. This announcement has since been received with mixed feelings in the Gambia with some being skeptical.

Commenting on the announcement, Mass Bajinka wrote on Facebook [13]:

Why not Liberia, Nigeria and the countries that's already have the virus….why Gambia????? We don't have single virus their so why Gambia ? I hope the government say nope.

Eddie Baldeh advised [14]:

The government should say no to this…why The Gambia? a Country that an Ebola has never been reported or diagnose…Do your trials somewhere n leave Gambia alone…in Peace!!

But some are more optimistic and would like the trial to go ahead [15] in the Gambia:

One reason why everyone is worried about this outbreak is because there is no cure. And now that a prospective vaccine is about to go through trials, here we go again with our conspiracy theories. Every single drug in the market has a side effect and before they are progressed to clinical trial phase they have to pass safety tests in animals first and the vaccine is deactivated before administering, so it cannot cause disease. And why Gambia? because vaccines have to be tested on healthy individuals to assess their effectiveness and MRC has years of experience in conducting such studies. Let's just stop the pessimism people and just be thankful that there is active research being geared towards fighting the deadly disease.

Whatever the case may be, the fact is that many people in the country are worried about the deadly virus entering the country.

Follow our in-depth coverage: The Struggle to #StopEbola in West Africa [16]