When the recent outbreak of Ebola virus was first reported in Nigeria, Nne Orji was one of many Nigerians who bathed in saltwater, believing that it would help keep her safe from the disease. She even drank from the salt solution – a mythical cure that has cost the lives of a number of people.She was especially concerned that her
profession as an immigration officer put
her at risk, because of contact with
travellers from other countries.
She was determined to do what it takes to
protect herself, but she didn’t have good
information about what to do. Along with
the widespread fear of the disease, there
were rampant rumours about how it
could be caught – and magical ways to
prevent it. Nne was just one of many who
believed them.
That all changed when her mobile phone
beeped with a text message from her
elder sister. Several beeps later, Nne had
the information she needed to help
protect herself against Ebola. And then
she started sharing the messages with
colleagues.
The messages were a result of U-Report, a
text-based communication platform
developed by UNICEF and deployed as
part of the social mobilisation strategy
against Ebola. It uses the cascading power
of a single ‘U-reporter’ sharing a message
with multiple recipients, who in turn pass
it on to others.
UNICEF launched U-Report in Nigeria in
April this year. Using Short Message
Service (SMS) messages, it allows
individual subscribers to ask questions
about issues, to get real time answers and
to share information with other U-
reporters across the country. By giving
people a new and effective platform for
communicaiton, it is intended to
strengthen community-led development,
citizen engagement and behavioural
change.
The outbreak of Ebola saw Nigerians
urgently seeking information on how to
prevent the disease. The use of salt and
water to cure the disease was a deadly
hoax spread through social media. U-
Report made it quicker for people to
share and receive information, even in
hard-to-reach areas where other
methods of social mobilisation and
outreach are less effective. In the month
after the start of the outbreak,
subscribers increased from 19,000 to
63,000. Many people were asking for and
contributing information on Ebola –
causes, symptoms, treatment and how to
prevent it – as well as sharing with non U-
reporters.
Ms. Orji’s sister, Oruoma Odom, a
journalism teacher, became a U-reporter
in May this year at a UNICEF training for
journalists and journalism teachers.
“What I do is send out the messages
whenever I receive them to my brothers
and sisters in the countryside,” she says.
“My sister who is an immigration officer
was most grateful, because she did not
have any information about Ebola and
being an immigration officer she felt
especially at risk being, as it were, the first
contact with incoming visitors to Nigeria.”
Educating the public about Ebola
transmission and prevention has been a
critical part of the effort to contain the
outbreak in Nigeria. In addition to house-
to-house campaigns and other social
mobilisation activities providing lifesaving
information on Ebola virus disease,
UNICEF has used the U-Report platform
to reach a large segment of the Nigerian
population.
“Within first 24 hours of the outbreak, our
subscribers doubled from 19,000 because
of the accuracy of information.
Unsolicited responses were replied in real
time. Questions, answers and facts from
the World Health Organisation were
shared on Twitter and Facebook on the
measures to prevent Ebola,” says
Aboubacar Kampo, UNICEF Nigeria’s Chief
of Health, who oversees U-Report Nigeria.
“People were asking questions like: Does
bitter kola cure Ebola? Is Ebola Virus
Disease airborne? Does bush meat
transmit Ebola? Can it be transmitted via
mosquito bites?” Kampo explains. “These
were the questions people were asking,
because they want to know, and you
cannot blame them.”
In addition to the thousands of U-
reporters sharing messages with friends
and relatives, major radio and television
networks in Nigeria rebroadcast U-Report
messages to millions of their audience.
“We must never underestimate the power
of the social media. With more than 100
million Nigerians owning a mobile phone
today, they can get the right information
or ask their question and get real-time
response from others as quickly as
possible,” says Jean Gough, UNICEF
Representative in Nigeria. “This is how to
engage the communities and promote
necessary social change that people
want.”

•Geoffrey Njoku, Communication
Specialist, UNICEF Nigeria

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