MONROVIA, Liberia— -- The rain-soaked roads of Monrovia tell an ominous truth: Ebola is real.
The message is spray-painted on walls in the capital of Liberia, the country hardest hit by the worst-ever Ebola outbreak. Nearly 700 people have died here, but denial and government mistrust continue to fuel the virus’s spread.
A group of young adults wearing colorful paper hats stood out on the earth-toned streets. “Ebola can kill,” one hat read. “Tell someone about Ebola,” read another. I asked the group what they were doing and they called over their leader. "We should be in school but this is more important," he told me. "We are going door to door to people's homes in our community telling them about Ebola. Telling them it is real. Telling them how to prevent it."
Some people do not believe that Ebola exists. They believe it’s all a government hoax. Just two weeks ago, an angry mob stormed an treatment center in West Point, a slum that has since been quarantined. The mob told patients they had malaria, not Ebola, and encouraged them to flee. When government mistrust runs this high, communities need to spread public health messages.
"What are you telling people to do? How do you prevent Ebola?" I asked the men and women wearing paper hats. "Don't touch anyone," one young man replied -- advice the group itself was heeding. No arms were linked, no hands were held. "Don't go to funerals," the man added. "Don't take care of sick people."
How hard those warnings must be to sell. What community doesn't want to gather to remember lost loved ones? Who doesn't want to care for the sick? To hold the hand of someone who is dying?
As simple as this group seems, its actions will make inroads at a time when governments and aid organizations can only reach so far. Ordinary people educating their own communities.