News / Africa

Social Anthropologist: 'Get Tough' Measures Won't Work for Ebola

FILE - A health worker, wearing head-to-toe protective gear, offers water to a woman with Ebola at a treatment center for infected people, as a young boy stands nearby in Kenema Government Hospital, in Kenema, Eastern Province, Sierra Leone.
FILE - A health worker, wearing head-to-toe protective gear, offers water to a woman with Ebola at a treatment center for infected people, as a young boy stands nearby in Kenema Government Hospital, in Kenema, Eastern Province, Sierra Leone.
Anne Look

As countries affected by the Ebola outbreak announce tougher measures to check the spread of the disease - including possible jail time for those accused of hiding Ebola patients - public health experts say the “get tough” approach will not work and may just alienate affected communities even more. 

Senegalese social anthropologist Cheikh Ibrahima Niang said the days he spent in the village of Njala have stuck with him the most from his month of research in eastern Sierra Leone, one of the three countries most affected by the Ebola outbreak. 

Njala used to be home to about 300 people, but many houses were empty.  Whole families were dead, Niang said.

Struggling with outbreak

Niang said his team began interviewing residents about the Ebola outbreak and people told them it was the first time anyone had listened to them.

"They said, 'We have had 46 people die in the past month and no one has come to see us or talk to us,' " he said.

Niang said he has heard this a lot from people struggling with the outbreak: They are being left out of decisions about efforts to save them. And it's no wonder officials are meeting with resistance, he said.

Niang said, “There is this whole work of discussion and persuasion that could have been done, but instead we have authoritarian methods. And when you go that route, you will have problems.”

He said he was in the town of Kenema on July 25 when a mob tried to attack an Ebola treatment center. Police dispersed them with live bullets and tear gas. 

A mentally unstable woman had declared that Ebola is a "hoax," but Niang said there was more going on.

He said these incidents "are not really about denying Ebola exists. They are an expression of the tension, the anguish people feel."

"And, above all, they are a a cry for reassurance and support," Niang said.

Measures being taken

Affected countries and their neighbors are shutting borders. Airlines are shutting down flights to and from affected countries. Sierra Leone and Liberia have security forces manning barricades and imposing quarantines.

Meanwhile, Niang said health centers and health workers in the affected countries are overwhelmed and underequipped.

Niang said the health workers he spoke to “expressed a frustration, a real anger at having been practically abandoned.”

Containing Ebola is complex.

The virus is transmitted either through eating bush meat or through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.

To stop an outbreak, people have to change their behaviors, their traditions. 

Instead of a mother caring for, or even touching, her sick child, she is told to take the child to a hospital. Families are being told they cannot bury their dead as they always have, that people trained in burying Ebola victims must do so.

This is the domain of "the sacred," Niang said, "the absolute," the familial bonds and emotions that make us human. He said people need to be convinced that the precautions are necessary.

Get tough measures

Yet, governments are resorting to force. 

Sierra Leone’s parliament voted "yes" this week to a law to jail people for as much as two years for harboring suspected Ebola patients.

Niang said those measures will not work.

He said, “This paternalistic approach has to stop. It is like we are treating people like children. Listen, take this, do that, this is good for you." 

Instead, he said authorities should recognize that they are dealing with a mature population and "talk to them, adult to adult, to find solutions together.”

According to the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health, Ebola has killed 341 people in the country this year, with the total number of confirmed cases nearing 1,000.

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More