By Michael Stulman
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is responding to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa by partnering with local community leaders to raise awareness about the virus. The focus is on how it is spread and what can be done to prevent transmission.
Much of the challenge is addressing the many misconceptions and misinformation about Ebola that have hindered efforts to contain the outbreak: Some families are taking patients confirmed to have Ebola from the hospital and bringing them home before they are recovered. Other people who have Ebola never go to the hospital, instead choosing to stay home with their family, which puts their family members at risk of contracting the disease when caring for them.
Here are five myths explained and debunked.
FIVE MYTHS ABOUT EBOLA IN WEST AFRICA
#1 Ebola doesn’t exist
False. This is the first time we’ve seen an Ebola outbreak in West Africa, but it’s real. As of August 22, 2014, there have been more than 2,615 cases and 1,427 deaths in the region. Although more and more people are beginning to believe that Ebola exists, there are still a significant number of people who do not acknowledge that it’s real. This is the fundamental challenge that CRS is addressing through our work with local communities. We have been collaborating with trusted community elders to raise awareness about the disease in a culturally acceptable way. We have local staff based in the areas where Ebola is being transmitted that are working tirelessly, going door-to-door, participating in radio discussions, printing posters, fliers, fact sheets and other materials with educational information.
#2 Ebola is a ‘political gimmick’
False. General skepticism about the intentions of government and NGOs underscore this myth. However, Ebola is not a scam: It’s a public health crisis.
In Sierra Leone, the regional concentration of Ebola in traditional opposition areas has led to this myth. As a generalization, the east and the south are considered opposition territory, while populations in the north and the west are mostly supportive of the ruling party.
In truth, Ebola came to Sierra Leone through the border of Guinea around March 2014. The governments in West Africa have been actively involved in Ebola education and prevention from the beginning.
#3 Ebola is a curse
False. Ebola is a disease caused by a virus. The challenge with this particular myth is that when a person has a curse, the solution is to go to a traditional healer, not to a hospital. CRS is working to educate people about the fact that Ebola is a disease so that they are more likely to visit a hospital and receive the necessary treatment that can save their lives.
#4 Ebola kills everyone
False. With this particular kind of Ebola, the survival rate is around 60%. But receiving early treatment is critical. Health care workers can bring down the fever, rehydrate patients, and control the bleeding, giving the patient the strength to fight the disease.
#5 Once a person is infected with Ebola, it is dangerous to ever touch them again
False. There have been hundreds of people who have survived Ebola in West Africa. However, survivors sometimes face stigma when returning to their communities. This is a common reaction to any virus, but Ebola in particular, given that this is the first time there’s been an outbreak in the region. In instances where there have been additional cases in the community, survivors can be blamed for spreading Ebola. In other circumstances, the community might not think the person is cured.
Once people are tested negative for the virus, survivors should be welcomed back into communities. They play a crucial role in raising awareness about the reality of this disease and how it can be treated.
Michael Stulman is CRS’ regional information officer for west and central Africa, based in Dakar, Senegal.
Bloomberg: Smell of Ebola Lingers as Health Workers Fight Disease
With Ebola Spreading, CRS Pushes Ahead in fighting the Virus
From NPR – Amid Ebola’s Spread, One Rules Reigns: ‘Don’t Touch’
Vatican Radio: CRS Responding to Ebola Outbreak and Fighting Fear Surrounding It