Hundreds of hard-to-reach communities in Sierra Leone that were in urgent need of information now get Ebola advice and independent news, due to a new satellite link from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) boosting the reach of Sierra Leone’s sole free radio network.

The Independent Radio Network (IRN), with its 51 community stations nationwide, began airing the daily Dreb (“chase out”) Ebola show in August 2014, to help far-flung groups stay disease free.

“Ebola is a serious health emergency, but at first people didn’t believe it was real,”says Kelvin Lewis, President of Sierra Leone’s Association of Journalists. “But quickly, within a month of starting our programme, we began turning the perception around. A lot more people now believe that yes, it’s true, there is Ebola.”

Supported by UNDP, the ‘Dreb Ebola’ team worked with the National Ebola Response Centre and the international community to bust myths on how the disease spreads, and support good hygiene practice such as avoiding touching, regular hand-washing, and quickly calling the national Ebola hotline about suspected cases.

“When the outbreak started, we all agreed that every radio station in Sierra Leone would give 30 minutes of airtime each day to fight Ebola, and newspapers would give half a page a day,” Lewis says. Roads are often bad in Sierra Leone, and public transport is sometimes non-existent. For many remote communities, radio is their only link with the capital, and the only way to reach them.

“Ebola is tough, because it has to do with people changing their behaviour, mindset and culture,” says Ransford Wright, national coordinator of the Independent Radio Network. “IRN started out by covering elections. With those you have clear timelines – for campaigning, voting, and announcing the results. But Ebola is complicated: no one knows when it’s going to end, so you keep changing plans.”

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