Amid Ebola's Spread, One Rule Reigns: 'Don't Touch'

Numbers from the World Health Organization put Sierra Leone at the top of the list for cases of Ebola. Yusuf Mackery explains what's being done to prevent infection and raise public awareness.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

On the ground in Sierra Leone health and aid workers are doing their best to teach the public about prevention. We spoke with one of them today on a scratchy cell phone in the city of Bo. His name is Yusuf Mackery and his job is to educate the community about Ebola.

YUSUF MACKERY: This event is very new among the population of Sierra Leone. Among people it's very, very, very new. And because it was new, people never took it very serious.

CORNISH: Mackery says that's changing now. Places that typically attract big crowds, such as movie theaters and nightclubs, have been closed to try to reduce physical combat. And even hand washing habits have changed.

MACKERY: As I'm telling you now, when you come down to go, if you visit, you can see a bucket of chlorine in all the households, especially public places.

CORNISH: Buckets of chlorine, he said. Changing behavior hasn't been easy. Mackery says it depends on letting people hear from the people they trust, the people who lead them.

MACKERY: Like, when you bring a man to the radio station to talk about something, that can also encourage the Muslims who were told by the Imam to change their behavior. If you bring a pastor or a priest to talk about Ebola over the radio or in the church, people - because the people believe, we can see Christians changing their behavior.

CORNISH: In the city of Bo, Mackery says people are afraid of Ebola, and that fear has affected some everyday habits - the ways that people interact. In nearby mosques, he says...

MACKERY: There was a culture of really greeting. For every prayer you can see Muslims greeting each other. But they are not doing that in the mosques. You can see now people because - there's a slogan - don't touch. That is the slogan now - don't touch. People, don't touch.

CORNISH: Don't touch. The slogan from Yusuf Macker, who works with Catholic Relief Services in the city of Bo in Sierra Leone.

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