Communication as aid: Using music and drama to disseminate Ebola prevention messages in Kabarole district, South Western Uganda
As Ebola remains a major health threat to Uganda, a number of preparedness interventions have been put in place to avert the epidemic. The Ebola outbreak emerged in neighbouring DR-Congo in August 2018. Given the proximity of Uganda to North Kivu province, where a number of people have died of the same disease, Uganda remains among the countries with the highest risk of getting Ebola.
Since December 2017, Uganda started receiving refugees from DR-Congo and with the confirmation of the Ebola virus, Uganda has been on toes while guarding its porous borders from letting people enter.
The Ministry of Health in Uganda has marked seven districts ranked at high-risk due to their proximity to the high- risk areas in DR-Congo with Ebola. Among those in Uganda include Kabarole, Kasese, Bundibugyo, Bunyangabu, Kanungu, Kisoro and Ntoroko. A lot of trade goes on in these areas and this gives people a higher chance of contact with people from Congo whom are highly susceptible.
Uganda Red Cross and the Ministry of Health, WHO, UNICEF Uganda, World Food Program, and the International Federation of the Red Cross/Crescent have come together to support the Ebola preparedness as a means of preventing Ebola but also managing it should there be any cases.
Over 180 Red Cross volunteers have been trained and deployed to conduct risk communication and social mobilization in all the seven high-risk districts through conducting home visits, engaging communities through community gatherings, sharing IEC materials on Ebola, screening all entrants at boarder points, conducting hygiene promotion among other interventions
In Kabarole district, music and drama is an innovative health approach to passing on Ebola messages to the local communities. It is a faster, effective and easier way of engaging communities to understand Ebola, how it is spread, how to avoid it, until the cycle of burial is managed should one die.
Uganda Red Cross mobilized a group of community members, women and men, to start up a drama group. These compose Ebola-related songs, plays, and performances in their communities. The group in the Harugongo sub-county is led by Mrs. Grace Safari, 51, a dedicated Red Cross community-based volunteer.
“We started in September after a thorough training by the Red Cross. We then started recruiting members who had the various talents to help us put together songs and a drama which we would take to the communities. Our music and plays basically remind people that Ebola is real and encourage them to avoid it through the prevention messages we include,” said Safari
The Harugongo drama group has 25 members so far, two writers who are also the choir leaders, five instrumentalists, dancers and other group members. They have so far written 10 songs about Ebola and one play. In their songs, they emphasize how to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus, how to handle someone with Ebola symptoms (suspected case) and how to handle a dead-body and burial of the Ebola victim. According to the group these are some of the key messages that the communities need to learn about Ebola.
“Through music and drama, people understand the message so fast and easily and this has helped a lot. We sing and act in our own local language which the communities appreciate very much. The children have found our messages very clear and interesting and they enjoy seeing us perform. It is always good to know that the children are well prepared for such an outbreak and have the knowledge to prevent it” she added.
The group meets at a local church in the sub-county. The church helps them with some instruments and seats to use during their performances. Ibrahim Baguma, 34, is one of the writers in the group. He is passionate about music and grew up dreaming of becoming a great artist who would sing to improve the lives of people in his society. Ibrahim never went to school all his life but found perfect joy in writing songs and serving in his local church. He believes that through music and drama he is able to reach the educated people he wouldn’t otherwise access.
“I did not go to school. I cannot just go around telling educated people about Ebola. These are doctors, teachers and nurses, who am I to talk to them about these things? But through music and drama, I attract their attention and they appreciate me and the message.
It gives me great joy to know that my songs help transform my community and help my people prepare for this killer epidemic,” said Baguma. According to the District Health Office in Kabarole district, this is one of the greatest ideas in place to fight and avoid the spread of Ebola because music is regarded as the biggest form of entertainment. It gathers big numbers of people at once.
“Whenever drama is staged in a place, people will always come. It is a form of entertainment and the message is still carried home. Through this intervention, people can watch and listen at the same time which further drives the message. We have put a technical person in place to move with the drama to answer all questions that might arise from the audience about Ebola. This therefore allows easy and immediate feedback,” said Brian Kisembo, a member of the district health task force in the District-Health-Officer’s office in Kabarole.
The role played by the drama team so far has been enormous and much appreciated by the communities and the authorities. From the plays and songs, people have been able to understand the symptoms of Ebola and become more precautions. No wonder it was after a drama show that the first suspected case in the district was identified in November, this year.
“We identified one of the suspected cases when someone, after watching the Ebola drama realized that he had a neighbor with most of the symptoms portrayed in the drama. He walked to us and asked our team to go and check it out. The suspect had indeed travelled from Congo a few weeks back and had not used the official boarder point where screening is done,” said Mr. Kisembo.
According to the Red Cross Ebola team in Kabarole district, it had increasingly become hard to find people in their homes during the door to door interventions and social mobilization. This had to be boosted by an addition of music and drama which can be taken to people at their places of work and in market places.
“We first concentrated on house-to-house interventions but then we later realized people are not always at home because they do a lot of business. We then resorted to using drama. In Uganda, music is one of the key communication methods that spreads information faster and easily to communities through edutainment,” said Geoffrey Buzaale, the URCS Ebola focal person for the Kabarole district.
In August 2018, the Ministry Of Health and W.H.O declared an Ebola outbreak in DR Congo which has so far claimed over 250 people, with 457 more confirmed cases. This has led to intensified preparedness activities around the border areas in Uganda. The Uganda Red Cross with support from partners continues to scale up Ebola preparedness interventions at all the boarder points with DR-Congo and in communities that are at risk. Uganda has never had any confirmed Ebola case since the fresh outbreak in DR-Congo in August 2018.