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Why misinformation hurts efforts to stop the spread of Ebola

Misinformation and stigma surrounding Ebola has the potential to derail efforts to eradicate the virus.  

Photo: Shoana Solomon
Shoana Solomon's photo has sparked an important debate about stigma. Photo: Shoana Solomon
 
Many Western media outlets have been dominated by news of the isolated cases of Ebola in the West. This has led to stories of stigmatisation of people from West Africa, or of West African descent. For example, in October a Sierra Leonean boy was refused a visit to a school he was due to attend in Stockport because of parental worries that he might spread Ebola, despite not displaying any symptoms of the virus and therefore not being infectious. 
 
I'm standing with Liberians facing stigma. Photo: Sian Hughes
I'm standing with Liberians who are facing stigma. Photo: Sian Hughes
 
Shoana Solomon, a photographer and TV presenter from Liberia living in the United States saw this stigma first hand too. Her daughter faced taunts at school including calls of “you’re from Liberia, so you have a disease.”
 
Solomon’s niece, who had never been to Liberia, was asked by her school to temporarily remain at home. The stigmatisation that her daughter faced at her American school inspired Shoana to say something. She posted a photo of herself on Facebook, starting the #IAmALiberianNotAVirus hashtag and created a video which has had over 50,000 views. 
 
Misinformation and hysteria in the West is dangerous. There are increasing calls from politicians to impose travel restrictions on affected countries. However this won’t stop people moving. In fact, they will do so increasingly clandestinely, making it nearly impossible to track people systematically and isolate the disease at its source. 
 
However, it is stigma and myths in the affected countries that are having truly devastating effects, and it is these that Concern is working hard to eradicate.
 
Education on Ebola in Magbass village, Sierra Leone. Photo: Concern Worldwide
Education on Ebola in Magbass village, Sierra Leone. Photo: Concern Worldwide
 
Stigmatisation has seen people with symptoms not seeking treatment, and has even led to people who have been diagnosed with Ebola fleeing isolation centres. This has dire consequences for the containment of the disease. In addition, some survivors have been shunned by their communities, and some children, who have lost parents to the disease, have been ostracised by their communities out of fear of contagion. 
 
Concern is fighting this stigmatisation in two ways:
  1. Public education and awareness raising, through community mobilisation
  2. Training of healthcare workers, village leaders, traditional healers and birth attendants
We’re working with partners on the ground, engaging in public education and awareness raising, by distribution of leaflets and posters explaining and illustrating the risk factors and how to protect oneself. In addition, we’re working to bust the myths about Ebola in Sierra Leone and Liberia, such as by going door-to-door in communities. 
 
Concern training community health volunteers in Tonkolili. Photo: Concern Worldwide
Concern training community health volunteers in Tonkolili. Photo: Concern Worldwide
 
Concern is also working closely with respected members of communities: healthcare workers, village leaders, traditional healers and birth attendants to educate them on the symptoms  of Ebola and what to do if a community member presents those symptoms. 

Fighting stigma and myths is important if we want to contain the virus and stop the spread. We’re working together with the DEC to fight Ebola in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Help us stop the spread by donating to the DEC Ebola Crisis Appeal.

 

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