Monday, February 2, 2015

Ebola - is culture the real killer?

An opinion piece by Obinna Anyadike, Editor-at-Large, in IRIN: “African culture” – cute if you’re a tourist, catastrophic when you want to put a lid on Ebola, or so some international health experts and media coverage of the outbreak would have us believe.

Why do people persist with risky funeral rites, eat Ebola-harbouring bushmeat, and occasionally attack the very health workers sent to help, the news reports leave us wondering. What is the value of “traditional beliefs” when they are harmful: why can’t people just act more rationally?

The simple answer is; ask the communities. The growing number of researchers that do, find that people are acting as responsibly as they can in desperate circumstances. The lack of a properly functioning Ebola response and weak healthcare services has forced communities into rough and ready self-reliance. Faced with hotlines going unanswered, overcrowded Ebola Treatment Units (ETU), militarized quarantine areas, communities are actually looking for more information, not less.

“Communities will do the best they can given the resources they have, even if ‘un-cultural’, in moments of crisis in order to fight for a future,” a recent study exploring community responses in urban Liberia found. It noted community leaders want training so they can provide safe burials; young men are rallying to guard their neighborhoods against perceived threats; and some people, ill-advisedly, have improvised protection suits out of raincoats and plastic bags to nurse the sick....

Hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone, where blood samples are tested for ebola, shot by Leasmhar, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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