Concern regarding Ebola has reached all corners of the globe. This year alone, the epidemic has contributed to the deaths of at least 2,400 people in the West African region. The World Health Organization also estimates around 79 health workers have been killed.
As the death toll escalates, authorities struggle to keep up with the rising number of people needing care. Clinics do not have enough workers—or even enough beds—to successfully treat everyone affected. Patients are being turned away, and as a result are bringing the virus back with them to their communities.
Despite the growing international response, with the U.K. and the U.S. promising to open new treatment centers in the region, there is still a heavy demand for health workers to come to the region. With an inability to keep the situation under control, public education has become a crucial component in addressing the epidemic.
Consider West Point, an impoverished neighborhood in Liberia’s capital Monrovia, where residents stormed an Ebola holding facility as a protest. The government responded with an overnight lock down on August 20. The quarantine ended 10 days later, after a number of additional protests.
The event is an important example of how shifting the community culture is crucial to addressing the disease. Many West Point inhabitants realized after the quarantine the true seriousness of the epidemic. A number of communities were convinced the epidemic was a government hoax, but now acknowledge the reality of the disease and have rallied against it.
Tan Tan B and Quincy B are Liberian hip-hop artists who try to convey the reality of Ebola through meaningful lyrics like “Ring the alarm, turn on the sirens. I see my people dying, but nobody’s firing.” Similarly, another popular song called “Ebola’s In Town” tells people to avoid touching friends to limit spreading of the virus. “Di Ebola Song” is a hit in Sierra Leone that encourages people to seek early medical attention.
Music can’t save a dying person, but community education efforts combat the spread of disease. Dr. Ibrahim Wadembere, a public health consultant in Uganda, explains the importance of community awareness for Ebola outbreaks in the region. He writes that community empowerment spreads awareness of how the disease is caught and spread, but also creates morale and prevents public panic.
As the world faces a clear lack of resources in addressing the epidemic, the importance of public education only grows. We may not be able to immediately create more clinics and find more doctors, but we can educate communities on disease prevention.
The community is the root of the disease’s spread, and prevention, intervention and control measures can only be implemented through the community. Making the ideas accepted and understood by community members will help maintain safety as the world scrambles to find ways to put a stop to this deadly outbreak.
- Fabeeha Ahmed