An interactive mobile app has been added to the West African multimedia #ISurvivedEbola campaign, one of the first global efforts at helping Ebola survivors in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea connect with each other, share public health advice and update the world on the challenges they face in their post-recovery lives.
Funded by Paul Allen's Vulcan Productions and implemented by PCI Media Impact in collaboration with UNICEF, #ISurvivedEbola is part of the #TackleEbola initiative and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation's commitment of at least US$100 million for Ebola relief.
Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are the countries most affected by the Ebola virus and have been grappling with various forms of isolation for more than six months. There have been bans imposed on flights from the countries, while people from the region have been denied entry into neighboring countries and have undergone unusual medical screening at various entry points into other nations.
Locally, people sick with symptoms similar to those caused by Ebola have been denied medical attention, out of fear that they would infect others with the virus.
"There are two main motivations for introducing the mobile app to the campaign," according to Carolyn Kindelan, communications manager at PCI Media Impact. "The first is to help overcome the loneliness and isolation many survivors feel due to stigmatization by their communities, and to provide an avenue through which they can share their experiences with each other in real-time," she said via e-mail.
"The second is to provide a channel through which the world can receive updates on the survivors' lives as they navigate reintegration, as well as key public health tips drawn directly from the survivor's posts through the app," Kindelan said, adding that the app is aimed exclusively at Ebola survivors who have shared their stories with the #ISurvivedEbola campaign.
Each of these individuals is being given a free smartphone with the app downloaded onto it, through which they can connect with each other to promote solidarity, Kindelan said. "Public-facing posts from survivors -- updates on their lives, including triumphs and struggles, further sharing of their stories of survival, which could include life-saving messages that might help others -- will land on the campaign page of the #ISurvivedEbola website," she added.
The mobile app debuted in Guinea this week on Monday. The first Guinean survivor to share her story, Fanta Oulen Camara, said in her first-ever message, sent via a mobile app: "Yes, I survived Ebola, thanks to the help of the brave healthcare workers who treated me. And I've learned that together, we can defeat this virus and protect our families and communities."
Vulcan General Manager Carole Tomko noted in a press release that the mobile app gives a human face to Ebola survivors, and has the potential to create a sense of community in which the survivors, rather than being stigmatized, become leaders and heroes in the fight against the disease.
When African Union Chairman Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz visited Sierra Leone Tuesday, the country's president, Ernest Koroma, described the continued stigmatization of Ebola-hit countries as a distraction to collective efforts to fight the epidemic.
The #ISurvivedEbola campaign documents survivor stories in video, audio and print formats and disseminates the content via local, national and international media and online platforms.
According to #ISurvivedEbola Senior Campaign Manager J.D. Stier, the communications strategy should work particularly well across Africa, since it is the fastest-growing smartphone market in the world. "But users do not need a smartphone or the app to engage with its vital content; all you need is Internet access," Stier said.
The latest figures from the World Heath Organization put the cumulative number of Ebola cases in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea at 20,656, and the total number of deaths at 8,153.