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Ebola heroines: a conversation with Joyce Kilikpo-Jarwolo, founder of Public Health Initiative Liberia

Joyce Kilikpo-Jarwolo is the Executive Director of Public Health Initiative Liberia, a local public health institution and ActionAid Liberia’s official partner for our Ebola response. As Liberia completes the 42 monitoring period with no confirmed cases of Ebola, we sat down with Joyce to talk about her reflections on the outbreak and its impact on Liberia.

Q: Hello. Please tell me little bit about yourself and organization?

A: I am Joyce Kilikpo-Jarwolo, Executive Director of a local public health institution, Public Health Initiative (PHIL). My organization works with communities to educate them on priority health issues that affect them. We also empower them to protect themselves and their families from illnesses and to ensure they have a better health outcome for themselves.


Q: What are some of the health outcomes you aimed for?

A: We aimed to empower women in the communities to take the initiative for protecting their health.  In Liberia, where there is a patriarchal society,  most women will wait for their husbands to make a decision about their health. We  tried to ensure as much as possible to that women have the knowledge, skills and confidence to take responsibility for their own health as well as their family’s.


Q: Could you tell us the number of women who have benefited from your organization’s project?

A: During the Ebola outbreak we worked with eighty members of the Rural Women Association of Liberia through our partnership with ActionAid Liberia. Currently we are working with over two hundred women under our Mother’s Club initiative . Through the Mother’s Club structure, we teach and empower mothers on issues of maternal and child health as well as reproductive and sexual health rights.


Q: What was your role or your organization’s role during the Ebola outbreak?

A: During the Ebola outbreak, we mobilized communities to take the lead in the fight against Ebola. We saw a need to engage communities if we were ever going to contain the virus. And that is what PHIL did.


Q: How many communities did you work in during the crisos?

A: We worked in more than one hundred and nineteen communities in four counties (Montserrado, Bomi, Gbarpolu, and Margibi). This was all done through our partnership with ActionAid Liberia.

Q: So what inspired you during the Ebola outbreak?

A: All my entire life, I have been passionate about health and ensuring that people at community level understand how to take care of their health. I grew up during the civil war in Liberia and we had poor to non-existent health care most of the time. At the time, the situation moved me to want to become a public health worker to make sure that people lives are change so that they can improve their health. That is why when the Ebola outbreak took hold of Liberia, I partnered with ActionAid to be able to go in to communities and carry out publich health promotion so that people could learn to protect themselves.  

During the Ebola outbreak, saw that there were lot of cases coming from communities. Traditionally in our nation, when someone is sick, we don’t just allow that person to lie there and just deteriorate. You have to give a helping hand. That is how we show that we care. No matter what, people were going to help their family during the time of illness. If they are going to help their family, they needed information. They were not medical doctors, they were not nurses, and they didn’t have PPEs or any protective equipment. We had to empower people in communities to be able to care for sick loved ones in a way that would protect them from possible infection. So, my motivation for doing work PHIL did during the outbreak was to ensure community health became the priority and responsibility of the community. I wanted people to have the knowledge and skills to help them overcome Ebola.


Q: Now that the Ebola outbreak has been contain in Liberia, what are your thoughts?

A: My thought now is about sustaining the gains acheived. Prior to the Ebola outbreak, there were lot of mistrusts in government, regarding the way they responded to the needs, especially health needs, of the people. One thing the Ebola outbreak did was to give government and communities a common foe to work together against.  It gave communities an opportunity to become empowered to take ownership of their health. Now we have this communities empowered in this regards, I believe that we can, and we should, build on it to make the community more resilient so that whatever intervention we all have done will be sustained over the years.


Q: Is there any final message that you want to send out there?

A: I want to appreciate the people of Liberia - the communities we’ve worked with, the women and youths of Liberia that we worked with – who took on the responsibility to see a change in the terrible situation we faced as a nation just a few months ago. I want to encourage us all do all we can to maintain gains we all achieved during the crisis. The way communities united is commendable and I hope that we can continue to work together beyond the Ebola outbreak and in other aspects of our lives.  I would like to also acknowledge and thank the international community, especially ActionAid for the support that was given to empower local institutions and communities. Liberia has gone 42 days without a confirmed case and this result is all thanks to the efforts of local communities and the support they received from ActionAid and other international NGOs.