It’s a far cry from the glamour of Hollywood, but through the power of film the British Red Cross is tackling the deadly cholera outbreak in Sierra Leone.
A mobile cinema will be visiting those communities worst affected by the cholera outbreak over the next five weeks, making sure they understand how cholera is spread and how to protect themselves. The deadly disease has already killed 254 people and affected 16,000 more.
The mobile cinema tour kicked off on Tuesday 4 September and has already reached more than 1,000 people – gathering crowds of 350-400 people per night. The film screening is accompanied by community discussions and hygiene promotion activities, delivered by Sierra Leone Red Cross volunteers and staff.
Sharon Reader, a member of the British Red Cross emergency response team that flew out to Sierra Leone at the end of August, explained: “The cinema events are designed to be really interactive and fun. We kick off by asking people what they already know about cholera and why they think their community is vulnerable to it – for example a lack of toilets or access to clean water.
“Then the health team talk about prevention and treatment – for example, how to make home-made sugar and salt rehydration solution. Next, we show the film, which is a short animated movie about the impact of cholera on one village and how the community tackles it. Then we reopen the debate about what could change in this community to make it safer and protect people from cholera. Finally, we let people ask questions and finish by showing the film again.”
The cinema is scheduled to visit 50 communities and schools across the north of Sierra Leone. The Red Cross will also provide bars of soap and leaflets on cholera prevention and treatment to everyone who attends.
Annie Kamara, who lives in Kissy Town about two hours from Freetown, attended the cinema on Wednesday 5 September. She said: “I have had cholera twice now and I thought you caught it through the air, so I didn’t know how to stop that. Now I know I need to wash my hands and only drink safe water. Now I will not catch cholera a third time!”
Sharon added: “During a cholera outbreak, prevention and early treatment is critical and saves lives. Through the cinema, we can make sure people know how to protect themselves and also how, where and when to get help if they do get sick.”
The British Red Cross will also equip each local branch of the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society with its own mini-cinema kit so it can continue spreading the message to smaller villages and communities throughout each district.
As well as communications specialist Sharon, our emergency response team includes two experts in hygiene promotion and a sanitation engineer. Members of the team are working to identify the most vulnerable communities, and support them with supplies and information. Sanitation engineer Anne Carroll is currently helping improve the sanitation and waste facilities at Port Loko district hospital.
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Slideshow photos © BRC