Ebola response of ActionAid Sierra Leone
Ebola response of ActionAid Sierra Leone

Ebola Preparedness Programme

Start Network's regional Ebola Preparedness Programme helped governments and communities in Guinea Bissau, Mali, Senegal and the Ivory Coast prevent and prepare for possible outbreaks of Ebola and other infectious diseases.


Since March 2014, countries in West Africa have experienced the largest Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak in history, with multiple countries affected, resulting, by December 2015 (and according to the World Health Organisation December 2015 situation report) in over 28,000 cases and 11,000 deaths worldwide.

Response work in the most affected countries saw human to human transmission in Liberia, while Guinea and Sierra Leone have been declared 'Ebola-free'. With international attention focussed on the most affected countries, preparedness work also took place in surrounding countries to limit the spread of the disease to only a handful of cases in Senegal and Mali in the region, but the need for continued vigilance is critical.

There have been many socio-economic, cultural and political impacts of the crisis at the local, national, regional and global levels. With a mortality rate of about 1 in 3, Ebola decimated communities, by orphaning children and tearing families apart. The outbreak caused significant loss to household incomes, caused food prices to rise significantly, led to unemployment and increased the vulnerability of already vulnerable populations. It destroyed lives and livelihoods and tested the national government and international community’s ability to respond to such a pandemic, to the limits.

Start Network's response

The UK government decided early in 2015 to invest £7 million through Start Network to develop national infrastructure to help prepare the governments and communities of those countries surrounding the most affected countries, to prevent and prepare for future possible infectious disease outbreaks. Start Network's collaborative response ran in Guinea Bissau, Mali, Senegal and the Ivory Coast, and was led by seven Start Network members and their partner organisations.

Through the unique consortium agreements already in place, Start Network was able to disburse funds to partners quickly, and by working in collaboration among members a more comprehensive programme could be put together, based on the needs on the ground, as decided by those on the ground.


There were three key objectives of the programme. Firstly, it was designed to support communities in at risk countries to be better equipped to prevent the spread of Ebola. Secondly, to support health systems in at risk countries to prevent the spread of Ebola. Lastly, the programme was designed to contribute towards the prevention of other similarly communicable diseases.

Agencies involved

The seven lead agencies were Action Against Hunger, CAFOD, Christian Aid, International Medical Corps, International Rescue Committee, Save the Children and World Vision.

These agencies were responsible for implementing projects that were aimed at supporting communities and authorities to be better prepared for future infectious disease outbreaks. This involved conducting activities such as providing new water points, hygiene kits, hygiene awareness training, rapid response team training, drills and simulations and mass social mobilisation and awareness raising through popular media such as television and radio.

Funding of £7 million is provided by by UK Aid.

To find out more about this programme contact startresponse@startnetwork.org

Zika Response project

Part of the West Africa Ebola Preparedness Programme, the Zika Response project was implemented as a contingency to prevent the outbreak of an additional disease in the region. The project used a two-pronged approach of vector control and sexual and reproductive health activities to prevent a Zika outbreak in Guinea Bissau. 


Between 2014 and 2016, West Africa experienced an outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), with the highest number of cases found in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The outbreak highlighted the need to reform the global health governance system to be better able to respond to future outbreaks of EVD and other highly transmissible diseases. As such, the Regional Preparedness Programme (RPP) was developed by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) to prevent further disease outbreaks in other West African countries. A central component of this programme was the Start Network West Africa Ebola Preparedness Programme (EPP), for which DFID allocated £7.2 million. This programme aimed to prevent the spread of EVD, as well as WASH-related diseases, in four of the most at-risk countries; Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mali, and Senegal.

There were many key lessons learned by the international community in the context of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, one of which was the importance of responding early and preparing countries to be able to cope with a potential disease outbreak. The RPP, through the EPP, was able to act on this lesson learned through a contingency budget line. When it was discovered that there were cases of Zika in Guinea Bissau, one of the programme countries, DFID agreed to extend the length of the EPP and allocate any unspent funds along with the contingency funds in order to prepare for a potential outbreak.

Start Network's response

On 1 February 2016 the WHO declared the Zika virus outbreak a global public health emergency. On 1 July 2016, two months after EPP activities ended, three Zika cases were confirmed in Guinea Bissau, one of the programme countries. As a result, DFID and Start Network allocated contingency funds remaining from the EPP to a Zika project in Guinea Bissau. Plan UK was selected to implement a 6-month project in three regions of the country: Bafatá, Gabú and Cacheu. The project aims to prevent the spread of the Zika virus in three ways:

  • Providing resources and information
  • Strengthening capacity of local health services for Zika case management
  • Improving access to local health services focused on adolescent and youth sensitive sexual and reproductive health

A two-pronged approach was used in Guinea Bissau to address a potential Zika outbreak. As the Zika virus can be transmitted by mosquitos (a vector), from person to person (through sexual intercourse between partners or through pregnancy from mother to child), a variety of different activities were needed to address all possible methods of transmission.

Through Plan UK and their local partners, the Zika Response project reached 76,142 (adjusted), or 157,200 people (cumulative by activities) in Guinea Bissau.

Funding of £300,000 for the Zika Response project was provided by UK Aid.