Religious leaders unite to raise awareness

Prevention of Ebola in Yei

By Richard Ruati
Religious leader speaks to a group
UNICEF South Sudan/2019

23 September 2019

Dahia Kazimiro Adukaga, an Imam at Yei’s Main Mosque and Reverend Pastor William Enoka Tikimo of the South Sudan Episcopal Church who live in Yei town, are not new to the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). Dahia was in Yei town, when EVD outbreak was confirmed in Maridi town in 1976 and in 2004, another outbreak of EVD occurred while Rev William was in Yambio town.

Since the outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic of Congo (DRC), and subsequently in Uganda, UNICEF South Sudan is highly engaged in prevention activities in the country. An outbreak of Ebola would be devastating for the world’s youngest country, hitting the most vulnerable the hardest – namely children.

Recalling the fear and stigma that affected the social cohesion of the community during the previous EVD outbreaks; the two religious leaders are united in rallying their congregation to uphold behaviour changes that will prevent the spread of the Ebola should it arrive in Yei town.

Dahia fears what happened in Maridi during the outbreak in the 1970s could happen in Yei too.

“Roads were closed for three months, and sticks were used to push corpses into the graves, against the cultural practices. The community regarded the Ebola virus as an enemy.”

– Dahia Kazimiro Adukaga

Handwashing is not enough for Dahia, he cautions the public to avoid communal gatherings that could flare the spread Ebola if an outbreak happens in Yei.

Dahia stresses that a lack of enough awareness on what causes the spread of Ebola is a problem in the community. “Society does not know that processing and consuming bush meat can lead to the spread of the virus.”

In Yei, awareness campaigns from Christian and Muslim religious groups form discussions on the facts surrounding the Ebola virus: how the virus is transmitted, and appropriate health measures to identify and reduce the potential spread of the disease.

Yei is located in the southern part of South Sudan to the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); it is considered one of the high-risk areas for Ebola importation from DRC.

Whereas there are no currently reported cases of Ebola in South Sudan, it is still a major public health concern given the outbreak in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.

In Yei town, Reverend Enoka believes, “Faith-based groups heighten awareness raising and promote behaviour changes in society, churches, mosques and funerals. The platforms can bring out the facts about the disease; promote solidarity, compassion, and humanity; and help mobilise resources and as well help create safer environments."

The overarching concern by all faith-based leaders is to prevent the social fabric breakdown, which occured during the Yambio outbreak in 2004.

“We were staying in our houses. We could not go to church and worship together as Christians,” said Reverend Enoka. “Church members are fearful of contracting the virus. Many are keenly listening and following prevention messages on radio stations and during the Sunday mass.”

Religious leaders have appealed to humanitarian actors to increase information and education about hygiene and healthy behaviours and, with a unified voice. In case the virus is found in Yei, “People will pray from their houses, and God will answer those prayers. We are trusting in God, but we should not tempt him,” stressed pastor Enoka.

UNICEF is an active partner in the Ebola National Task Force and the several Technical Working Groups and works in close collaboration with the Government of South Sudan, the UN partners and international and local non-governmental organisations.

Under the second phase of the national preparedness plan, the main current donor for UNICEF’s prevention and preparedness plan is DFID.