In Liberia, contact tracing key to curtailing Ebola’s spread

11 November 2014
Author: UNFPA
A delivery of UNFPA supplies arrives at the JFK Memorial Hospital maternity center in Monrovia, part of UNFPA's response to the Ebola outbreak in Liberia. Photo credit: UNFPA WCARO

MONROVIA, Liberia – Although there are signs the Ebola outbreak in Liberia is slowing, the fight against the disease remains an uphill battle. Underlying problems with the health system continue to impede public health responses, and rumours are discouraging people from seeking help. To extend the reach of health workers and calm fears about the outbreak, UNFPA is playing a key role in contact tracing and disease surveillance efforts.

As of 7 November, 6,619 cases of Ebola had been identified in Liberia, 2,766 of which ended in death, according to the World Health Organization. Ebola can be spread once an infected person begins to exhibit symptoms; this can take place at any point within the disease’s 21-day incubation period.

UNFPA is working with Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and a variety of local and international partners to implement and scale up contact tracing – a key weapon in the fight against Ebola. Contact tracers are trained to find everyone who has been in contact with an infected person, and then monitor their health for the full incubation period.

A contact tracer speaks to a community member following a reported Ebola death in the area. Photo credit: UNFPA Liberia

Tracers may even go door-to-door to gather information about possible contacts and to raise awareness about how to prevent transmission of the disease.

When a suspected case is identified, officials are notified and a team from the health ministry evacuates the patient for testing and treatment.

Taking on Ebola denial

Ebola denial remains a problem in Liberia, discouraging infected persons from seeking proper care. Without isolation and treatment, the illness can quickly spread.

“Our job as contact tracers has been made difficult by community members’ entrenched denial and or lack of knowledge about the Ebola disease,” said Francis Cooper, who has seen conspiracy theories take hold in the community where he works. “Some community members see us as spies for the Ministry of Health who are trying to limit their movement and intrude in their personal affairs.”

“One of the greatest contributors to the high transmission rate are patients staying at home, where they can infect multiple family members,” said Ibrahim Sesay, a UNFPA data specialist in Liberia.

“The best intervention is to help communities manage patients in a manner that avoids further infection – through education and training of community volunteers,” Ms. Sesay said.

UNFPA is working to make sure communities are closely involved in the planning of contact training and in the recruitment of contact tracers. This process helps raise awareness within affected communities about how the disease works and how to combat it.

“Initially, it was difficult for community members to accept us into their homes. But people are getting to understand the situation,” said Kadiatu Koneh, a contact tracer. “The crucial aspect of our task is building a rapport with community members.”

Scaling up

Contact tracers are currently monitoring thousands of potential contacts. On 29 October, the Government of Liberia reported that 6,823 contacts had been monitored on that day alone. But there 7,220 contacts have been identified, meaning more resources and trained personnel are required.

There are currently 200 UNFPA-supported contact tracers working in two counties of Liberia, and this number is set to increase to about 6,500 in at least the remaining 13 counties.

And the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response is set to supply 3,300 mobile phones to help contact tracers rapidly communicate information to the health ministry and other partners in the response.


Population : 5.1 mil
Fertility rate
Maternal Mortality Ratio
Contraceptives prevalence rate
Population aged 10-24
Youth secondary school enrollment
Boys 17%
Girls 15%

Related content

Regional Highlights The total number of COVID-19 positive cases has reached over 216,970 in all 23 countries in West and Central Africa, four months after the first case was reported in Nigeria. By the end of August, there were 3,388 deaths, a mortality rate of about 1.6%....
Regional Highlights As the COVID-19 pandemic accelerates globally, WHO urges countries to focus on 4 priorities: prevent amplifying events; empower people to protect themselves; focus on public health basics; and protect the vulnerable, including older people and those with...
Regional Highlights COVID-19 cases continue to be reported in all countries across the region, totalling over 800,000. The confirmed number of new cases has significantly reduced, with only 175,000 new cases reported during the month of August, down from June and July, when...