‘Don’t be so Academic!’– Messaging on Ebola Treatment Seeking Behaviour in Sierra Leone

Published on 27/03/2015

March 11th – As part of an R2HC-funded project aimed at developing messages promoting Ebola treatment-seeking behaviour in Sierra Leone, Associate Professor John Kinsman from Umeå University in Sweden travelled to Sierra Leone to work with his partners from the Medical Research Centre in Freetown and the Centre for Health Research and Training in Sierra Leone (CHaRT-SL).

Funded by the R2HC programme, this trip was centered around a creative workshop to develop messages and messengers based on previously conducted formative research. The hope was to address some of the concerns of the Sierra Leonean people in relation to Ebola and the response to the epidemic.

March 27th – in a rapid turn around – the messages developed in the Project will be used to promote behaviour change and treatment for Ebola in a three-day, enforced shutdown to try to close down the cycle of transmission once and for all.


Following their message development workshop, the team presented at the NERC (National Ebola Response Centre) Daily Briefing, held on the compound of the old war crimes court in Freetown. In the presentation they outlined a draft set of messages and associated channels, messengers, and associated operational issues. Their findings were extremely well received and they were asked to draw up messages that could be used immediately in the country.

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The in-country head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), and a number of people from NERC itself, including from the social mobilisation pillar, requested that the material be fast-tracked into operation. John stated a concern about the possibility of unanticipated consequences of disseminating the materials before they were validated in the field: until messages are field-tested, we can’t be completely sure that they will be as understood as we think they will be… But a senior NERC official countered this: “Don’t be so academic!” he half-joked. “We don’t have time for that. We need to change behaviour right now and your materials reflect the reality in the field…”

John says: “We were happy to hand the materials over on that basis. We are delighted that the timing worked so well, and that we are able to contribute substantively to such a critical national mobilisation event.”

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Working through the following night, John and his team refined the messages and images, and passed them to NERC officials the next day. The document contributed to the message development process designed to support the three-day enforced ’stay at home’ that is running from Friday 27th to Sunday 29th March throughout the country, aimed at trying to close down the cycle of transmission once and for all. The main focus of the messages is on Ambulance Drivers, Burial Teams, and the fear of Chlorine.

For more in-depth information, please read the project’s Ebola Messages document, or the project profile page.

Elrha is a registered charity in England and Wales (1177110).

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