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

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline 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.
Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Webi
X
January 29, 2015 9:58 AM
Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video As Ground Shifts, Obama Reviews Middle East Strategy

The death of Saudi Arabia’s king, the collapse of a U.S.-friendly government in Yemen and a problematic relationship with Israel’s leadership are presenting a new set of complications for the Obama administration and its Middle East policy. Not only is the U.S. leader dealing with adversaries in Iran, the Islamic State and al-Qaida, but he is now juggling trouble with traditional allies, as White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Saved By a Mistake - an Auschwitz Survivor's Story

Dagmar Lieblova was 14 when she arrived at Auschwitz in December 1943, along with her entire Czech Jewish family. All of them were to die there, but she was able to leave after several months due to a bureaucratic mix-up which saved her life. Now 85, with three children and six grandchildren, she says she has a feeling of victory. This report by Ahmad Wadiei and Farin Assemi, of RFE/RL's Radio Farda is narrated by RFE’s Raymond Furlong.

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

All About America

AppleAndroid