Friday, August 1, 2014

People in Ebola Areas Badly Need Education about the Infection

Sierra Leone Ebola Outbreak
I just finished listening to a WhatsApp audio file in which a fellow from Kailahun district,  the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in the country is conveniently denying the existence of Ebola, blissfully oblivious of the terrible nature of this virus, and attributing all the alarm to some sort of conspiracy by the All Peoples Congress ( APC ) to kill people from that area and keep them from voting in future elections.

Bob Marley one wrote, "fools die for want of wisdom, " that statement is prophetic in the face of such glaring lack of education about Ebola Virus.
Segbwema MP Abu Jajua Conducting
Ebola Education with Late Dr  Khan

The really scary thing about the clip is not even the degree of ignorance manifested by this fellow in the face of such a devastating epidemic,  but the fact that he claims that they are telling their people and children not to take any medications or treatment provided by outsiders for the disease, even if they came from America and Germany, and to chase them and kill them. He said that they should attack even the President of Sierra Leone if he was the one that took the treatment to them.

Sad to note too is the fact that the fellow is obviously totally convinced about the truth of this so called vast government conspiracy, that the journalist or whoever was interviewing him did not even see any need to argue or educate him. The interviewer was simply at a loss for words.

This audio clip, even though it is so totally disheartening, is very revealing in many ways:

Firstly, it shows that the authorities in Sierra Leone still have a long way to go in trying to convince the largely illiterate and highly superstitious people in these areas where the outbreak started that Ebola is real, it kills and does not care whether you belong to SLPP,  APC or even the Ignorant Party. Ebola simply does not discriminate and doesn't care about tribe or region. 

Secondly, it shows that in trying to educate people about Ebola in these areas, the messenger is equally as important as the message. It is absolutely crucial for the government to dent holes in these insane conspiracy theories by spreading the message through individuals and media who bear the trust of the locals. In the case of this fellow he simply does not trust those in power, unfortunate but true.

A third and very important revelation is that whatever task force is put together to tackle this outbreak should be non-political and should include people who would add value to the task force by the skills,  experiences and knowledge they bring to this fight,  devoid of their current or past political affiliations. The task force should include people experienced in disaster management, epidimiologists, virologists, etc. The "chop the money" types should be kept away from the management of this crisis as far away as possible.

In order to tackle this outbreak,  the help of everybody is required. All such help  should be channeled through the health ministry, or whatever organ is instituted to tackle the outbreak so that the activities of individuals are coordinated,  duplication is avoided, proper health protocols are followed and a national disaster management plan is adhered to.
President Declares State of Emergency

President Ernest Koroma has already talked about setting up an Ebola task force that would be based at State House and would lead the official response to the outbreak.  The work of this task force should hopefully be to complement and strengthen whatever good work is already being done. The President should ensure that people who are always the agents of controversy are kept as far away from this task force as possible. All official government announcements about Ebola should now be through the task force. The government should speak with a single voice.

In addition to the local ignorance about Ebola,  the right wing conspiracy theorists in USA and the diaspora have also started to do what they are good at, putting out fake scientific papers and the usual conspiracy theories about Ebola. Some are already saying that it is a failure of a weapons lab at Kenema and that George Soros and the USA government are involved.  There are also papers purporting that the local "Bitter Kola" is efficacious in the management of the disease. What is dangerous about these diaspora based conspiracy theories and papers is that our people have the tendency to believe most publications that come from overseas and hardly bother to check the integrity of the source.  It is therefore very important that the authorities be on the lookout for these conspiracy theories and debunk them before they become other obstacles to fighting this outbreak.

Even though the fight against Ebola should be non political,  it is important to recognize the overarching impact of politics in Sierra Leone.  Politicians who are trusted in the different areas should be drafted to help with Ebola education. It is however important that the focus be on local politicians and not the big crowd pullers, as what you don't want in the midst of this outbreak is thousands of people gathered to follow a national political figure. Ebola spreads faster this way, so absolute care should be taken to avoid campaign style events in the affected areas, as this will only exacerbate rather than help contain the spread of this contagion.

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