Below are extracts from a new item on the AllAfrica website (with thanks to Tropical Health Update). You can read the full article here:
London — Three years on from the start of the West African Ebola epidemic, lessons are still being learned. And the most surprising are not coming from the scientists, but from the affected communities themselves; about how, with hardly any help, they tackled the virus and won.
One of the curious aspects of the epidemic, which shook Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, was the way in which the number of cases started dropping before the main international response was in place. In one area after another, the infection arrived, spread rapidly, and then – apparently spontaneously – began to decline.
Ebola first crossed over from Guinea into Liberia’s Lofa County in March 2014. A rapidly erected treatment centre at Foya, on the border, was soon full to overflowing. In September, it was treating more than 70 patients at a time. But by late October, the centre was empty.
Paul Richards, a veteran British anthropologist, now teaching at Njala University in Sierra Leone, has been worrying away at this phenomenon. He is convinced the main driver of the reduction was what he calls “People’s Science”; the fact that people in the affected areas used their experience and common sense to figure out what was happening, and began to change their behaviour accordingly.
He told a recent meeting at London’s Chatham House: “One of the pieces of evidence which makes me think that local response was significant is that the decline first occurred where the epidemic began, so that the longer the experience you had of the disease, the more likely you are to see tumbling numbers. So, someone was learning… People ask me, ‘How long does it take to learn?’ And we don’t know, but on the basis of this case study, it’s about six weeks.”
A lot of national and international effort was put into public health education, and the messages broadcast on radio were very widely heard. But initially they were not very helpful, with a lot of emphasis on the origin of the disease, and warnings not to handle dead animals or eat bushmeat…
American anthropologists, who interviewed people in urban areas of Liberia during the outbreak, found a sense of frustration that the information campaigns told them about the origin of Ebola, how it was spread, but didn’t give them practical advice on how to care for sick relatives, how to transport them safely to hospital, and what to do with corpses when the burial teams didn’t arrive…
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