Via Thomson Reuters, an article by Fiona McLysaght, country director for Concern Worldwide: Ebola Spread through Myth and Fear. Excerpt:
Combating the disease once people are infected is difficult since no vaccine or drug is currently available, so Concern is focused on fighting Ebola before people get sick. In Sierra Leone, where Concern has been working for the last 18 years, we are long-trusted members of the community. This has helped as we have reached out to raise awareness and train village leaders and traditional healers, who in rural communities are often the figures people turn to in times of crisis.
We have also made radio jingles aimed at educating the general public, and we are working to support the country’s over-burdened health care system, providing protective equipment, including aprons, gloves, and masks, to medical workers.
The tightly held myths we seek to dispel include the belief that the disease is politically motivated or spread by NGOs or the government. Some believe if they are diagnosed with Ebola, they will be given an injection in a medical clinic to hasten their death.
This misinformation means that people who are diagnosed sometimes flee, rejecting the treatment that might save their lives, and simultaneously spreading the disease into untouched towns and villages.
People also know if they or their loved ones are diagnosed, they will be put in isolation, unlike other illnesses, where families can gather to care directly for whoever is sick. Eye contact is the only connection Ebola-affected patients will have, since the doctors and nurses attending to them are covered head to toe in protective clothing.
For both children and adults, the prospect of being alone as they fight this disease is terrifying. For healthy relatives, it is hard to accept.
Changing the Culture
As we work with local and national officials to contain the current Ebola outbreak, some of the changes we seek challenge deeply rooted practices or traditions. For instance, eating wild animals normally augments a rural community’s food security. With the Ebola outbreak, eating animals is now potentially deadly if they are infected with the disease.
Additionally, when people die, their bodies traditionally are washed by hand and they are touched during the funeral rites. This also has potential to spread the disease and needs to be curtailed until the outbreak has been stopped.