Key ICT Features in UNICEF’S Response to Fighting Ebola
International organizations like UNICEF are no stranger to dealing with devastating medical outbreaks like the ongoing Ebola crisis happening in West Africa, which has already claimed almost 5,000 lives. To engage local supporters, UNICEF recently hosted a speaker luncheon in San Francisco to explain the powerful work they have been doing on the ground throughout Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. The main speaker was Dr. Kerida McDonald, the UNICEF Senior Advisor for Communication for Development (C4D). A doctor who called in then followed her presentation via Skype from Accra, Ghana, to give an update on UNICEF’s work at the forefront of the crisis.
How is UNICEF utilizing technology to help make an impact?
1. Understanding the Unique Media Norms of a Culture
Liberia and other West African countries have their own flavor of pop music and media preferences that may surprise some western relief organizations. For example, Liberia’s broadest form of media is radio, not television. To bring communities accurate information on Ebola and how to avoid the disease from spreading, UNICEF has been using media like radio programming, partnerships with media producers, and community cinema nights (for those who don’t have televisions). UNICEF leaders are continuously paying special attention to what individual communities need and what kind of media outlets they are already using.
UNICEF’s C4D response is also sent via SMS messages. Large numbers of people already use cell phones in West Africa, and to utilize this UNICEF has created a long list of a text messages available in three countries in 18 different languages. This method of communication engages whole communities because individual cell phone users will share the accurate medical information to neighbors, family members, and friends.
3. Cultural Sensitivity and the Need for More Technology
A large problem that health care workers are experiencing in Ebola-ridden communities is the cultural practice of touching bodies while funerals take place. It is common for many different populations to want to continue this practice, but for the sake of the health of family members and communities, this cannot continue. UNICEF is working hard with interfaith relief organizations as well as community leaders to find culturally sensitive solutions to this ongoing problem.
Making cultural changes are always at the grassroots level, which emphasizes the need for accurate medical information to be in the hands of aid workers so they can disseminate it to communities. Technology is essential and tablets, smartphones, or other WiFi-enabled devices need to be sent to West African communities. Inveneo is currently doing that – learn how you can help make this possible.
UNICEF’s C4D response is becoming increasingly more vital as those infected with Ebola continue to suffer. Regional C4D officers are on the ground working in Liberia to breakdown the walls of misconceptions, issues of denial that one can get sick, and the stigma and discrimination that Ebola victims sometimes face.
Many thanks to Ian Rosenfield, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF Northwest Board Chair, Emily Brouwer, Regional Director, Linda Naugle, Director, and the entire Northwest staff who hosted the speaker event in San Francisco. Learn more and how you can help make a difference by visiting the U.S. Fund for UNICEF website.
Note: The official photographer of this event was Federica Armstrong. Her photos are not featured above, but you can find her incredible portfolio at www.federicaarmstrong.com