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In Mali, united against Ebola – a transporter’s pledge

By Birama Cissé and Josephine Ferreiro

With a major epidemic raging just across its borders and reports of a new outbreak, Mali is on high alert for the spread of Ebola virus. In one of the capital’s bustling transport hubs, one man is leading the effort to protect his passengers and his city.

BAMAKO, Mali, 11 November 2014 – For more than 20 years, Abdoulaye Bagayoko has worked at one of the busiest bus terminals in Bamako, Mali’s capital. Now he has decided to make the fight against Ebola his priority.

© UNICEF Mali/2014/Cissé
“When I learned about Ebola, I started to look at my surroundings. I told myself that I cannot remain indifferent to this scourge that kills without mercy," says Abdoulaye Bagayoko, who is overseeing Ebola prevention measures at Sogoniko bus station in Bamako, Mali.

The West African Ebola epidemic, the largest in history, marks the first time the virus has hit the region. Unlike in previous outbreaks, this one has been transmitted across international borders and has reached urban centres. The first confirmed case in Mali occurred in Kayes region on 23 October, prompting authorities and communities to act quickly to halt its spread.

In all the affected countries – including Mali – a lack of adequate medical equipment and limited knowledge of infection control has put health workers at high risk. Poor case detection and contact tracing, the difficulty of monitoring burials, and public misconceptions about the virus have all contributed to the spread of the virus.

By combating rumours, quelling fears and clarifying misconceptions, social mobilization and interpersonal communication are critical to halting the spread of the disease. UNICEF Mali is working closely with government authorities and communities to help raise awareness and stop the virus from spreading. Sharing information with target groups, such as transporters, is an effective way to ensure wide dissemination of messages.

A hero fighting against Ebola

Mr. Bagayoko shows up to work at the Sogoniko bus terminal every day at 6:30 a.m. and stays until midnight managing the bus terminal. He works as deputy chief of the terminal and acts as union leader for the National Union of Transporters.

© UNICEF Mali/2014/Cissé
UNICEF and the Transporter Union conduct an information campaign on Ebola prevention and hygiene practices at the Sogoniko bus station in Bamako.

At 52 and with 35 years of experience in the field of transportation, Mr. Bagayoko knows all the ins and outs of the terminal. There are more than 60 ticket stations and 15 toilets used by travellers. Hundreds of buses arrive and depart every day, taking thousands of passengers to numerous destinations, including neighbouring Senegal and Guinea, one of the countries hit hardest by the Ebola virus.

As overseer of Ebola prevention for the terminal, Mr. Bagayoko is on the front line of risk. He displays a shy demeanour, but he speaks with conviction. “When I learned about Ebola, I started to look at my surroundings,” he says. “I told myself that I cannot remain indifferent to this scourge that kills without mercy.”

Posters with messages on Ebola symptoms and prevention methods for passengers have been put up in all bus terminals in Bamako by the Ministry of Health, in coordination with UNICEF and other partners.

“We are the most exposed and most vulnerable to this disease,” Mr. Bagayoko says.

Mobilized as one

UNICEF and the Department of Social Development have provided Ebola prevention training to 50 transport managers, who will then train union members. In addition, 140 people have been trained on water point management at all bus stations.

“With the training by UNICEF, I realized that I can protect myself against this disease and save more lives,” Mr. Bagayoko says. “Health is everyone's issue, rich or poor; through training, we learned the simple lifesaving skills, especially the guidelines to be observed in the presence of Ebola symptoms on people.”

© UNICEF Mali/2014/Cissé
Following UNICEF’s training on Ebola prevention and hygiene practices at the Sogoniko bus station , union members ask all passengers to wash their hands with soap and bleach.

Alongside these trainings, UNICEF supports the Government’s prevention efforts by prepositioning health supplies and tents, and acting as lead for mass communication, advocacy and social mobilization for community-based prevention and case detection.

Following the confirmation of the first case in Mali, UNICEF and its partners have scaled up intervention activities in Bamako, as well as in at-risk areas including Kayes, Sikasso and Koulikoro regions, in an effort to keep the deadly virus from any potential spread.

“After my training, I hosted a big meeting to inform other transporters, and together we set up facilities for hand washing with soap and have chlorine on hand, particularly at points of sale,” Mr. Bagayoko says. “No passenger goes onboard a bus without washing his hands. Thanks to the support of UNICEF, we have also displayed poster-size stickers on all public transport, buses and taxis. I want to thank UNICEF and its partners for their support, and especially the awareness for the fight against Ebola disease. We must all remain mobilized as one to defeat Ebola.”



UNICEF Photography: On Ebola's frontlines

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