21 August 2014
It’s been a difficult few weeks hearing the continued news about the spread of the Ebola in West Africa. I will be one of the first to admit I didn't know a huge amount about this virus, aside from it being incredibly frightening and in the vast majority of cases resulting in death.
I didn’t know how it was transmitted and therefore how it could be prevented. You can learn more about that in my colleague Jane’s blog.
However, knowing how to prevent it and learning what I can do to protect myself isn’t a life or death situation for me. This isn’t the case in Sierra Leone and Liberia, countries where we work and where the disease is spreading.
I interviewed ActionAid’s Country Director from Liberia, Korto Williams to find out the answers to some of the key questions we’ve been asked about Ebola. Of course, if you have other questions you can leave them in the comment box below and we’ll come back to you with answers. You can also follow this online debate from Reuters which Korto contributed to.
What is happening in Liberia?
Some communities in Liberia have been quarantined to reduce transmission of the Ebola virus and enhance contact tracing. We’re providing families who have been quarantined with rice and oil to enable them to stay indoors.
We’re also continuing with our public health campaigning, working with local people in local languages people understand. Where this happens, we see that Ebola cases are much lower than were originally estimated.
Why isn’t the Ebola virus slowing down?
Tackling this virus requires a combination of three things: health education, good treatment and contact tracing. Unfortunately there are major challenges with all three.
In particular people are very fearful of contact tracing, as they are afraid of being criminalised or contracting Ebola by being compulsorily placed with other ‘suspected cases’ in hospital.
Then there is the issue of health education. People don’t always trust official information from the WHO or government.
Also, underlying everything is poverty. Liberia has very little in the way of basic services or even fully funded medical centres.
What is an Ebola ‘contact’ and what is ‘contact tracing’?
A ’contact’ is any person who was in physical contact with an Ebola patient. This means anyone who cared for the sick person, washed their clothing or bedding, slept in the same bed, or washed or touched the body of a person who died from Ebola.
All contacts should be followed by the contact tracing team who check to ensure that none of the contacts become sick. If a contact does develop Ebola symptoms, they will be sent to the treatment center to give them the best chance to survive. This also helps prevent the virus from spreading to other family members.
Is there any hostility to aid or health workers entering local communities?
People are of course scared and we are doing what we can to alleviate this fear. My colleagues on the front line tell me that people are not seeking help if they suspect they have contracted the disease with many individuals and families fleeing their homes, in order not to be taken to the treatment centres. The high death rates associated with Ebola create fear and lack of faith in the medical system.
An Ebola centre was looted – how can this be prevented in future?
This shows the level of mistrust and misinformation about Ebola. People are very scared of this virus and sadly, sometimes don’t trust official information. That’s why we work with local trusted volunteers to help educate people in a language they understand.
Some people don’t believe Ebola is a real virus. Many people are consulting traditional healers and/or are claiming it is caused by witchcraft. ActionAid is working hard to help tackle this misinformation and provide people with the right information to protect themselves from getting Ebola and seek help if they think they have it. Communication is key to ensuring everyone knows what’s going on and why.
In the UK you can help tackle Ebola by donating to our work.