AJWS’s Response to the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) Epidemic in West Africa

20 October 2014

The current epidemic of Ebola virus disease (EVD) is far larger than all previous epidemics combined.[1]  As of late October 2014, nearly 9,000 cases have been identified in five West African countries, with more than 50 percent of those cases in Liberia.[2] The scale of the epidemic in Liberia, which shows no signs of abating, has led to a large-scale breakdown of health care systems. It has greatly affected the socioeconomic well-being of the majority of the Liberian population, and has especially affected marginalized and underserved communities.  Due to AJWS’s longstanding work in Liberia and the West Africa region and our niche in grassroots grantmaking, we have been working in partnership with local organizations to respond to this epidemic.

There is an incredible amount of misinformation around Ebola, as it is not a disease that West Africans are typically familiar with. There is a huge mental burden of the disease and many people are filled with terror, as the primary messages have been that “Ebola kills” or that it is untreatable. Rather, what is needed is evidence-based and sensitive messaging to inform the public about the logistics of treatment, care and testing. There is a need to change the story from “Ebola kills” to the fact that symptoms of Ebola are treatable, and the earlier one gets treatment, the higher chances are of surviving.

In light of this dire situation, AJWS has responded swiftly and responsively. Our partners are working in almost all counties of Liberia, with a focus on the most heavily burdened areas. AJWS has raised over $200,000 thus far, and has disbursed grants to partners who are primarily working on community awareness raising and the provision of sanitation materials. Our partners build on existing trust, relationships and organizing structures within the communities, in order to effectively raise awareness about Ebola symptoms, prevention, care and treatment. Our partners are working with County Health Teams and Ebola Task Forces to ensure coordination with local efforts as well as local religious and political leaders who are able to influence community attitudes. Volunteers are being trained and equipped with protective gear as well as hygiene materials, to ensure that door-to-door and community outreach is done safely.  All information being used and disseminated is Ministry of Health approved.

Finally, as AJWS works in neighboring Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire, we are exploring ways to raise awareness about Ebola and to proactively stop any potential outbreaks in those countries.

We hope to raise additional funds to:

  • Provide additional grants to existing Ebola fund grantees, as most disbursed grants are small and are only for 3-4 months
  • Grant to new community-based grantees to reach additional parts of Liberia
  • Grant to larger institutions such as the Civil Society Taskforce and an international NGO that is working on a medical response to the Ebola epidemic
  • Engage organizations in Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire to do awareness raising and prevention work, and to proactively preempt any possible cross-border outbreaks

 

Liberia Grantees Response (as of 20 Oct 2014):

All grantees are using Ministry of Health (MoH) approved materials and are working with county health teams and Ebola task forces in their respective regions to improve coordination and collaboration with other entities.

  • MARWOPNET is using its radio station to spread messages about Ebola prevention and referral pathways in northern Liberia
  • The Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa is engaging community-based organizations and rural media institutions to carry out a sensitization campaign against the spread of EVD, including distribution of hygiene materials
  • SEWODA is training staff and peace committee members in Ebola prevention and response and conducting community outreach in Maryland, River Gee, and Grand Kru counties
  • GRASS is proactively disseminating information about Ebola virus among communities in Grand Bassa County
  • BAWODA is focusing on women and children as the most at risk in Grand Bassa County, and is training and equipping volunteers who will conduct community sensitization and is using religious groups and institutions such as Sunday schools to spread prevention messaging
  • WANEP is conducting an awareness campaign around Ebola prevention and treatment in Margibi, Lofa, and Bong counties, and is training and equipping volunteers who will target over 3,000 households with information and hygiene promotion materials
  • FCI is conducting an awareness campaign and is training staff and volunteers who will in turn target about 7,000 households and public institutions in Rivercess County with information and hygiene promotion materials
  • Imani House International is renovating part of their clinic to be able to act as an Ebola quarantine and triage center, and is continuing to provide much needed primary care services in light of the collapse of health care systems in and around Brewerville, an underserved community near Monrovia
  • DEN-L is conducting an awareness raising campaign with Ebola-related information and improving community coordination and response, targeting 11,000 households in Bong County, Liberia, targeting women as well as other CSOs and community surveillance teams for engagement
  • COPDA is engaging tribal and religious leaders on Ebola prevention and awareness, training and equipping staff and volunteers to conduct a door-to-door sensitization campaign targeting 6,000 individuals, and is providing psychosocial support and counseling to survivors of Ebola and their families, in Nimba County.

[1] WHO Ebola Response Team. (23 Sep 2014). Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa – the First 9 Months of the Epidemic and Forward Projections. Accessed from: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1411100?query=featured_home&#t=article

[2] CDC. (12 Oct 2014). 2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa.  Accessed from: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/outbreaks/2014-west-africa/index.html

 

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Hate Crimes should be considered as both a priority crime, and be understood and reported on differently from other forms of crime, said Dr Juan Nel, at a Hate Crimes Working Group Media breakfast on 22 October.

The aim of the breakfast was to strengthen the media’s understanding of hate crimes, and the sensitivity around reporting on it.  What made hate crimes different from other criminal acts, explained Dr Nel, of the Hate Crimes Working Group, was the motivation for the attack:  Hate Crimes were motivated by prejudice, and the perpetrators seek to demean and dehumanise the victim based on the fact that the victim doesn’t conform to the ideas of the “norm”.  These can include the victim’s race, ethnicity, culture, appearance, age, religion or sexual orientation.

The reason they should be a priority was not because of its prevalence, but because the severity of the attack extends to the family, group and society at large.  These attacks were anti-democracy and anti-open society.  The fear with which victims live prevents them from living life to the full.  He and his colleague, Yolanda Mitchell, provided details on the legal attempts to delete crime and hate speech, as well as then news tool that have been developed to capture details of both victim and perpetrator.  This will aid in understanding the phenomenon better.

Dr Nel noted that hate crimes are preceded by hate speech.   In her presentation, Wendy Kahn, the National Director of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies gave concrete examples of some of the hate speech made through social media, against the SA Jewish Community.  She joked that it should be referred to as “anti-social” media, due to the viciousness of the attacks that can be now made anonymously.  Lucinda van der Heever from Sonke Gender Justice gave a practical example of a hate crime that occurred against a young David Olyn, a young gay man in Cape Town among a coloured community.  Olyn was viciously raped and murdered.

The media were encouraged to ask questions of the various partners that were there.  The breakfast was hosted by Sonke Gender Justice and was funded by the Open Society for South Africa.

 

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Above Board: Mary Kluk comments

by SAJBD on 22 October 2014

in General

 Seeing the Jacarandas in bloom in my recent visit to Pretoria reminded me of my own student days, when the appearance of those purple blossoms served as a warning that the examinations period was upon us, and that if one had not already done the necessary preparation, it was probably too late. The month of Tishrei, with all its Yamim Tovim, usually coincides with the UNISA examinations, and inevitably this results in instances where exams are scheduled on the chagim. The Board has worked closely with the university over the years in dealing with such cases, and earlier this year we were delighted to arrive at what will hopefully be a permanent, long-term solution. According to this, religiously observant Jewish students write their papers immediately after the holiday in question under our auspices at Beyachad, now designates as an official UNISA exam venue. Invigilators are provided for by the university and paid for by the Board, which also is responsible for ascertaining that the students are indeed strictly Shomer Shabbat and, through the Beth Din, formally commit themselves to respecting the integrity of the examinations process. This system, as in past years, was followed again this time round, with several dozen students writing their papers on the Motzai Shabbat following Succot and Shemini Atzeret. We greatly appreciate the willingness of UNISA, and where required other universities, to accommodate us in this way. Currently, we are experiencing problems with the University of Johannesburg, where some exams are set on Shabbat, but hopefully it will be possible to reach an acceptable accommodation for next year and thereafter.

Examinations will currently be very much on the minds of hundreds of senior Jewish school learners around the country as they go about writing their matric papers. I wish all of them every success, and hope that the efforts they have put in will be crowned by deserved success. Afterwards, we expect many such youngsters to flock to the coast for the traditional post-matric ‘rage’. We in Durban look forward to this, but as ever, I urge our young visitors not to get carried away by the heady feeling of recently attained freedom, but at all times to act responsibly and avoid putting themselves at risk.

For various reasons, the need to maintain a high level of communal security over the chagim was of particular concern this year. Our CSO throughout the country truly did an outstanding job in this regard, devoting countless hours around the clock to ensuring that our shuls and other installations were protected and to this end working closely with the leadership, the security establishment and the community at large. On behalf of the community, I warmly commend and thank them for this, as well as for everything else they do on our behalf throughout the year.

The conclusion of the long religious festival period usually heralds the onset of a ‘coming down’ phase, but this weekend the high we have experienced will be prolonged through the holding of the second ‘Shabbat Project’. All those involved in last year’s inaugural project will remember what an inspiring success it was year. Remarkably, it has resulted in our relatively small community becoming international trailblazers, since this year our counterparts in dozens of cities around the world will be following our example. Once again, we congratulate Chief Rabbi Goldstein and his team for introducing and following through with this wonderful initiative.

  •  Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM every Friday 12:00-13:00.

 

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Wendy

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Mary Kluk in Saturday Star on Security issues

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