Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

Health

A Quarter of People in the Congo’s Ebola-Hit Cities Don’t Think the Disease Is Real


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Ebola is a devastating disease, and an international effort is essential to containing it and minimizing deaths. The UN calls for a unified, global effort to achieve its Global Goals, including Goal 3: to achieve universal good health and well-being. You can join us by taking action in support of health care for all here.

About one in four people in the Ebola-affected regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) think that the disease outbreak is not real, according to a new report.

The report, published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, surveyed 961 respondents from 977 households in Beni and Butembo, two cities at the forefront of the current Ebola outbreak. Out of the 961, less than 40% trusted local authorities to serve their best interests — and 230 people believed the Ebola outbreak in the DRC to be fake altogether.

The findings emphasize the fact that mistrust and misinformation can be detrimental to containing an epidemic. In short, the report found that if people mistrusted the information they were being given or the authority figures giving it to them, they were less likely to comply with suggested behavioral changes, get vaccinated, or seek appropriate health care.

Take Action: How Much Do You Know About Polio?

“The mistrust is not completely surprising, we knew that it [was] there and [that] it [had] been there for a long time,” Patrick Vinck, assistant professor in the department of global health at Harvard University who led the study, told Global Citizen.

“[The surprising part] was how quickly it became violent and the prevalence of misinformation, and the fact that people were ready to believe … rumours that were clearly unfounded,” he said.

Examples of prevalent, but unfounded, information included the idea that the Ebola virus had been fabricated for financial gains or to destabilize the region.

The most notable difference between the 2014-2016 West African outbreak and the current one in the DRC is the strong conflict surrounding the affected areas.

This conflict has made reaching people with the experimental vaccine much harder, but, more than that, it has increased the levels of mistrust within the communities.

Presidential elections in the area were postponed in December, citing concerns of Ebola spreading, but critics argued they were pushed back in an effort to keep the current leaders in power. This likely added to the mistrust, and therefore the increasing misinformation about the outbreak.

Related Stories March 26, 2019 The Second-Deadliest Ebola Outbreak Ever Has Now Surpassed 1,000 Cases

“It’s a combination of all those factors, but it’s clear that 20 years of conflict has really undermined the social cohesion,” Vinck said. “What you see is that anything that is from outside — and it doesn’t just mean foreign aid, it’s also outside the community, from another territory, another province — [is] seen with mistrust.”

This, in turn, can make containing the deadly disease much more difficult, even as health workers work around-the-clock to vaccinate as many people as possible.

The West Africa outbreak of 2014-2016 resulted in 28,616 cases and 11,310 deaths in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. With the experimental vaccine and treatments being used in the DRC, the hope is to keep the virus contained and to put an end to the outbreak as soon as possible.

Related Stories March 11, 2019 Voice of America Several Injured in Deadly Attack on Newly Reopened Ebola Treatment Center in Congo

Vinck called the vaccine a game changer, but stressed how vital trust building is in this situation.

In the short term, he suggests that health workers be as responsive and as transparent about the epidemic as possible — he said that while people seemed to be well informed about symptoms and protection, they knew little about the overall response to outbreak.

He also stressed the need for health workers to adapt within local contexts.

Related Stories Feb. 25, 2019 Voice of America Pregnant Women Urged to Get Ebola Vaccine During Deadly DRC Outbreak

“What works in one community might not work in another one,” he said.

Working with trusted individuals in the community could help prevent the spreading of the disease and improve efforts to vaccinate all those who have come into contact with the disease, he said.

“If people are not coming forward when they see somebody sick or when they’re sick themselves, then why would they come forward if they are known to have had contact with someone who died from Ebola,” Vinck said.

“This example shows how important it is and the implication that it has when we don’t do it, when we fail to rebuild those relations.”