Ivory Coast: Stopping Ebola at the Borders
By Balla Sidibe, CARE Ivory Coast Country Director
That leftover Valentine chocolate you’re still nibbling on? It probably originated from cocoa beans grown in the West African country, Ivory Coast.
Cocoa farming is big business here. Ivory Coast is the world’s top producer of cocoa beans, and with the Ebola outbreak ravaging our neighbors in Liberia and Guinea, fears that Ebola would cross the borders placed CARE Ivory Coast staff on high alert.
We knew that an Ebola outbreak would be nothing short of disastrous for this country, which is still reeling from two civil wars. The economic impact, alone, would be far reaching. If farmers couldn’t produce their top crop — the cocoa bean — livelihoods would be lost. The economic impact would be felt for months, even years, to come.
CARE has a vital presence in the cocoa farming communities. One of our poverty-fighting projects, dubbed “Cocoa Life,” empowers farmers to grow their businesses and develop opportunities for their communities. When news of the nearby outbreak hit, we leveraged our relationships with farmers in support of the government’s key prevention plans. We integrated Ebola prevention training, for example, into regular training events where we educated community leaders on ways to prevent infection, such as not eating bush meat and regular hand washing.
We worked with people like Adjoua Martine Konan, who at first didn’t think the outbreak was real. “I thought it was just a rumor,” she said, “created by Westerners to stop us from eating bush meat.”
Her community, like many here, has long depended on bush meat, including small rodents, as a source of vital protein and for businesses. So it was hard to accept what health experts were saying: that the handling and consumption of Ebola-infected bush meat can spread the disease among humans. But after seeing media images of those who had fallen ill from the virus, “I realized that Ebola is very real,” said Konan. Her thinking changed more substantially after attending Ebola prevention training.
More importantly, she started influencing a change in how others in her community viewed the Ebola threat. A single mother of five boys and one girl, Konan serves as vice president of the Community Development Committee in Brokoua, a village of 1 000 people in the central west of Ivory Coast. Armed with posters and storyboards designed by the Ministry of Health, the committee spreads messages about how to stop Ebola in its tracks. “I now know more about Ebola,” Konan said, “what it is and how to prevent it from entering into my village.”
Konan returned home and started holding meetings with neighbors. Families are now eating more fish, pork and beef instead of bush meat, she said. Konan also has coached her neighbors in regular hand washing and advised them to avoid shaking hands and other greetings that involve touching. She crosses her arms over her chest to demonstrate. “It is hard for us to change our habits,” she said, “but we know we need to in order to stop transmission.”
I’m proud of the work CARE has done in partnership with the government to prevent Ebola from crossing our borders. Still, I know that the threat is far from over.