Via The Guardian, a report by Pauline Oosterhoff, a member of the Ebola Response Anthropology Platform: Ebola can be transmitted sexually for weeks after recovery - education is crucial. Excerpt:
When I met members of a women’s secret society in Sierra Leone this February, they proposed drastic measures to stop Ebola from spreading through sexual contact.
All survivors should be quarantined for three months, they said. Male survivors need to be locked up because they cannot control their urge to have sex. Women need to be locked up because they cannot stop their husbands from forcing sex upon them.
When I asked them whether using condoms might be easier than quarantine, I was greeted with rolling eyes and hissing. Their men would never accept this. “They would put holes in the condoms as soon as they saw them”. Female condoms? Forget it. “They are disgusting. They get stuck deep into women’s body.”
These responses suggest that international health organisations’ official recommendations for preventing the transmission of Ebola through sexual contact, which advise survivors returning from treatment centres to use condoms or refrain from sex, are not being adhered to.
Being clear about how Ebola is spread is vital. According to the World Health Organisation, “men who have recovered from the illness can still spread the virus to their partner through their semen for up to seven weeks after recovery”.
The view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is that sexual transmission of Ebola has not been definitively established, but it agrees that “multiple studies have shown the Ebola virus can persist in semen for longer than in blood or other body fluids”.
As my meeting with the women’s secret society made clear, contradictory communication on Ebola as a sexually transmitted disease leaves people to come up with their own preventive methods.
Women’s secret societies are ancient cultural institutions found all over Sierra Leone. They teach Sierra Leonean girls to become women through a comprehensive hands-on curriculum which includes sex education. Outsiders lack detailed knowledge of these rituals. But secret societies have become notorious for conducting female genital mutilation (FGM) as part of this education during “Bondu” rituals.
Given the secret societies’ poor reputation on sexual and reproductive health, it would be easy to dismiss their idea of a three-month quarantine as another “traditional” erroneous belief. But the behaviour-change messages from international NGOs, on how to prevent Ebola spreading through sexual contact, are confusing and maladapted to local gender inequities.