Football, an unexpected ally in the fight against the Ebola epidemic

Ebola in DRC

Bobala is a village 12 kilometers from Iboko, a locality in Equateur province, affected by the Ebola virus. In May 2018, the Ebola epidemic struck the village: 1 case was confirmed and 2 cases are probable. Despite confirmation of one case, for the community in Bobala, Ebola was linked to witchcraft. This evil curse could therefore only be treated by traditional healers. Yet Ebola is a serious and highly contagious disease that anyone can contract and die from if it is not treated quickly.

We had already been to Bobola to raise awareness of the Ebola virus among the population. However, people had misgivings and didn’t really believe what they were being told. Yet the problem was real as the person confirmed with Ebola had died and swift action was required. We had to get the people together in order to talk to them about the disease, but how could we mobilise them if they did not believe in the existence of Ebola?

We had the idea while watching a World Cup match: football brings people together! We had to use football to mobilise the people of Bobala and gather them together in one place. Then we could tell them about Ebola.

Armed with a projector, a tarpaulin, a generator and a montage of the very best goals of recent years, we went to Bobala. So as to attract as many people as possible we chose to do the projection at night, as during the day children are at school and adults at work. Over 400 people gathered to watch the screening! The atmosphere was festive as we started to project the images. With each goal cries of joy rang out from the crowd.

After the football we started to talk about Ebola and the atmosphere changed radically. There was total silence. The group of spectators followed attentively the film telling the story of a father who was contaminated by eating bush meat and who, in turn, contaminated his wife. Dozens of questions were asked about modes of transmission, means of prevention and vaccination.

Ebola is a serious disease! Anyone can get it!” concluded the participants at the end of the discussion. Everyone seemed to have understood that Ebola was not an evil curse but a contagious disease. When we returned a few days later, we noted that the community had adopted the right behaviours to prevent the Ebola virus. People no longer shake hands and wash their hands regularly. When vaccination started there was strong take up and people were even demanding to be vaccinated.

Thanks to football, we reached people that we would not otherwise have been able to reach. In one evening alone, we made over 400 people aware of the Ebola virus!

More info about the fight against  Ebola in DRC :

Translated from French by Daphne Wood

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Astrid Nsuka

Astrid est chargée de la Communication de Communication pour le Développement au bureau UNICEF de Bukavu.

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