Via The Lancet: Ebola: limitations of correcting misinformation. The authors are with the Ebola Response Anthropology Platform. Excerpt from a must-read article:
Communication and social mobilisation strategies to raise awareness about Ebola virus disease and the risk factors for its transmission are central elements in the response to the current Ebola outbreak in west Africa.
A principle underpinning these efforts is to change risky “behaviour” related to “traditional” practices and “misinformation”. Populations at risk of contracting Ebola virus disease have been exhorted to “put aside, tradition, culture and whatever family rites they have and do the right thing”.
Messages designed to correct perceived misunderstandings include: “Ebola is caused by a virus. Ebola is not caused by a curse or by withcraft”; “science and medicine are our only hope”; and “traditions kill”.
Such messages follow logically from clinical and epidemiological framings of contagion. They pay little attention, however, to the historical, political, economic, and social contexts in which they are delivered. Furthermore, they reinforce external perceptions that local beliefs and practices are barriers to be overcome through persuasion or counterbalanced with incentives.
Such characterisations have been counterproductive in previous Ebola outbreaks. We propose four questions to scrutinise some of the assumptions about current Ebola social mobilisation strategies.
First, will improving people's biomedical knowledge of Ebola lead to desired behaviour changes? Efforts to change what people do through biomedical information alone can be ineffective. Communicating knowledge about why people should wash their hands with soap, sleep under a bednet, or change their sexual practices is known to be insufficient to induce behavioural changes in practice, usually because of people's other priorities. The situation with regard to Ebola seems to be following suit.
Biomedical information on risk might hold limited relevance to people when trying to care for sick loved ones or attend to the dead. Other approaches that start by addressing people's priorities need to be considered when attempting to influence health-related activities.