Unmet needs and behaviour during the Ebola response in Sierra Leone: a retrospective, mixed-methods analysis of community feedback from the Social Mobilization Action Consortium

Lancet Planet Health. 2020 Feb;4(2):e74-e85. doi: 10.1016/S2542-5196(20)30008-5. Epub 2020 Feb 26.


Background: The west African Ebola epidemic (2014-15) necessitated behaviour change in settings with prevalent and pre-existing unmet needs as well as extensive mechanisms for local community action. We aimed to assess spatial and temporal trends in community-reported needs and associations with behaviour change, community engagement, and the overall outbreak situation in Sierra Leone.

Methods: We did a retrospective, mixed-methods study. Post-hoc analyses of data from 12 096 mobiliser visits as part of the Social Mobilization Action Consortium were used to describe the evolution of satisfied and unsatisfied needs (basic, security, autonomy, respect, and social support) between Nov 12, 2014, and Dec 18, 2015, and across 14 districts. Via Bayesian hierarchical regression modelling, we investigated associations between needs categories and behaviours (numbers of individuals referred to treatment within 24 h of symptom onset or deaths responded to with safe and dignified burials) and the role of community engagement programme status (initial vs follow-up visit) in the association between satisfied versus unsatisfied needs and behaviours.

Findings: In general, significant associations were observed between unsatisfied needs categories and both prompt referrals to treatment and safe burials. Most notably, communities expressing unsatisfied capacity needs reported fewer safe burials (relative risk [RR] 0·86, 95% credible interval [CrI] 0·82-0·91) and fewer prompt referrals to treatment (RR 0·76, 0·70-0·83) than did those without unsatisfied capacity needs. The exception was expression of unsatisfied basic needs, which was associated with significantly fewer prompt referrals only (RR 0·86, 95% CrI 0·79-0·93). Compared with triggering visits by community mobilisers, follow-up visits were associated with higher numbers of prompt referrals (RR 1·40, 95% CrI 1·30-1·50) and safe burials (RR 1·08, 1·02-1·14).

Interpretation: Community-based development of locally feasible, locally owned action plans, with the support of community mobilisers, has potential to address unmet needs for more sustained behaviour change in outbreak settings.

Funding: Bill & Melinda Gates, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and National Institutes of Health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Community Participation*
  • Epidemics*
  • Feedback*
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / epidemiology
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Quality of Life*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sierra Leone