Senegal: Oxfam in concerted effort to counter rumours, prejudices about Ebola

Dakar, Senegal (PANA) - Mistrust, rumour and myths about the origin and spread of Ebola are allowing the disease to thrive particularly in the West African region, the aid agency Oxfam warned in a statement on Tuesday.

"The unprecedented outbreak has sparked suspicion and fear across the globe, with sensational headlines and governments imposing travel restrictions and quarantine periods," said the international agency which is working with communities in Liberia and Sierra Leone to try to prevent the spread of the disease. 

"There are many different rumours. People have seen that when someone gets ill they get taken away and they never come back," remarked Oxfam’s Doris Mapturi Wuseni. 

Months after the outbreak began, health workers trained by Oxfam say some people in rural areas of Sierra Leone are still hiding sick relatives at home. 

Oxfam’s head of water and sanitation in Liberia, David Watako, said: “There are various conspiracy theories concerning where the disease has come from - in the streets people in hushed tones will say that the disease was brought by the Western countries, others say that it is because of the things that the Liberians have done in the past that God has brought this to them.” 

Oxfam’s work with local communities in West Africa has highlighted the need for more to be done to listen to people’s fears and convince people that there are ways to stop the spread of this terrifying disease. 

Trusted community health workers, according to the agency, are best positioned to listen to people’s concerns, talk through their fears and explain how to stop the spread, protect themselves and seek treatment in medical centres.   

Analyses of previous outbreaks of Ebola, including from the World Health Organization, have shown that establishing relationships of trust and confidence with affected communities and involving community and religious leaders and respected individuals are fundamental to a successful response. 

Sierra Leonean radio host, Stephen Bockarie Mansaray who acknowledged that  “information is  key in the fight against Ebola," said that in Sierra-Leone, people are not used to reading newspapers so they rely on the radio. "We need reputable organizations to come on board and tell people that the disease is here but if we do A, B, C and D we can contain it,"  he added.

Oxfam plans to raise more than US$27 million to strengthen its programmes, including its public awareness raising campaign (on radio, billboards and SMS) on the best ways to protect against the disease with as its objective to reach more than four million people in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The number of Ebola cases, and suspected Ebola cases, has now exceeded 10,000 and the outbreak has claimed almost 5,000 lives, almost all of them in the three West African countries. 

The World Health Organization has put the death rate from this outbreak at 70 percent and has warned that there could be 10,000 new cases a week in West Africa by December 2014.

-0- SSB/JEN/AR 28Oct2014

28 october 2014 14:30:08

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