Concept: Kambia District
Kambia District is located in northwestern Sierra Leone along the international border with Guinea. The district is dominated by forest and swamp habitat and has a population of approximately 270,000 persons (approximately 5% of the nation’s population) who live in rural villages and predominantly subsist on farming and trading. During 2014-2015, the remoteness of the area, a highly porous border with Guinea, and strong traditional beliefs about health care and sickness led to unique challenges in controlling the Ebola Virus Disease (Ebola) outbreak within the district.
This paper discusses the establishment of a clinical trial of an Ebola vaccine candidate in Kambia District, Northern Sierra Leone during the epidemic, and analyses the role of social science research in ensuring that lessons from the socio-political context, the recent experience of the Ebola outbreak, and learning from previous clinical trials were incorporated in the development of community engagement strategies. The paper aims to provide a case study of an integrated social science and communications system in the start-up phase of the clinical trial.
In 2010, at the same time as the national roll out of the Free Health Care Initiative (FHCI), which removed user fees for facility based health care, trained community health volunteers (CHVs) were deployed to provide integrated community case management of diarrhea, malaria and pneumonia to children under 5 years of age (U5) in Kambia and Pujehun districts, Sierra Leone. After 2 years of implementation and in the context of FHCI, CHV utilization rate was 14.0 %. In this study, we examine the factors associated with this level of CHV utilization. A cross-sectional household-cluster survey of 1590 caregivers of 2279 children U5 was conducted in 2012; with CHV utilization assessed using a multiple logistic regression model. Focus groups and in-depth interviews were also conducted to understand communities' experiences with CHVs. Children with diarrhea (OR = 3.17, 95 % CI: 1.17-8.60), from female-headed households (OR = 4.55, 95 % CI: 1.88-11.00), and whose caregivers reported poor quality of care as a barrier to facility care-seeking (OR = 8.53, 95 % CI: 3.13-23.16) were more likely to receive treatment from a CHV. Despite low utilization, caregivers were highly familiar and appreciative of CHVs, but were concerned about the lack of financial remuneration for CHVs. CHVs remained an important source of care for children from female-headed households and whose caregivers reported poor quality of care at health facilities. CHVs are an important strategy for certain populations even when facility utilization is high or when facility services are compromised, as has happened with the recent Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone.