By Macarena Aguilar
UIGE, Angola, 12 April 2005 - Following the deadly Marburg outbreak in Angola and recent attacks on World Health Organization (WHO) surveillance teams in the Northern Province of Uige, UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Health and WHO in a major multi-media campaign designed to provide targeted and accurate information about the disease.
On 11 April, television and radio stations across Angola began broadcasting around the clock, a series of five Public Service Announcements (PSAs) outlining measures the population should take to avoid contracting the virus. The PSAs also provide advice on what to do if a neighbour, relative or friend develops symptoms.
Similar to Ebola, the Marburg virus is transmitted by contact with bodily fluids such as blood, urine, sweat or tears. Symptoms include high fever, internal bleeding, vomiting and diarrhoea. Most cases are fatal and there is no known cure. Isolation of victims is the only way to slow the spread of the disease.
The new campaign calls for citizens to "protect yourself, protect your family, let's work together to stop the epidemic." In consultation with the national media, a series of interviews, roundtables, hotlines and call-in programs are providing a unique platform for debate and clarification. A massive distribution of brochures and communiqués has also started targeting schools, nurseries, churches, markets, health centres and public institutions.
"With the collaboration of the Angolan Red Cross volunteers, this past weekend we were able to distribute thousands of leaflets to people attending a football match at the main stadium in Luanda," said UNICEF Communications Officer, Celso Malavoloneke.
The largest quantity of these materials was sent to Uige and neighbouring high risk provinces. Some 750 Scouts were recruited to begin flooding the streets of Luanda with informational handouts and an additional 450 health activists will join the group for door-to-door visits.
"The information that a trained person may pass on can very often be much more meaningful than a written or painted document with the most valuable content," said Celso.
A UNICEF social mobilisation specialist will arrive in Uige in the coming days to support the government and other partners such as WHO will boost the ongoing communication activities.
"Cultural realities and traditional practices need to be at the centre of our communication intervention," explained Filomena Wilson, Director of the Health Promotion Department at the Angolan Ministry of Health. "And it is the correct combination of messages and channels that will make the difference in bringing the epidemic under control."
With a rising death toll and clashes between communities and health workers attempting to trace suspected cases, there is an urgent need to quell the rumours and correct misconceptions that many Angolans have.
"Stories relating Marburg to witchcraft are beginning to spread around Uige," continued Filomena, "and that is almost as dangerous as the virus itself; people start fleeing or hiding the sick and the dead." "We need to encourage that a trustworthy and healthy dialogue is established between the teams and the population, who is currently going through a major struggle."
According to the latest report by the World Health Organization, 214 cases of Marburg haemorrhagic fever have been reported in Angola, claiming 194 lives.