Monday, January 12, 2015


I've had varying thoughts and opinions on the issue of Ebola over the course of the past several months. When I heard that HealthEd Connect was going to be facilitating a training, my first thought was    to question why we should spend all this time and resources to train on Ebola. With the so many dying from AIDS, malaria and dysentery, what would be the use in discussing a disease that is not even in the communities where are health workers live?  Currently their risk of contracting Ebola is zero so why do we need to educate them on this topic?  

After traveling around Africa the past week and listening to officials from the Zambian government as well as our local health workers, I have been made keenly aware of why we should be doing this training.  

First, Ebola is a scary disease. It's death rate is very high for a contagious disease and when people die from Ebola, they are isolated, scared and their loved ones cannot comfort them for fear of contracting the virus as well.  

When anything is scary we as humans tend to overreact and the fear builds. I remember the level of fear created by the media in the US a few months ago and the irrational responses many communities and governments made due to fear.  Their reactions were not based on rational science, rather made due to irrational fear. 

The same is true in Zambia, a country that borders the Congo which had a limited and under publicized outbreak a few months back.  Given the proximity to an affected country, there were many rumors and myths formulated about Ebola.  People were avoiding foreigners and others were worried that their fever meant they had it. There was even a story of one man entering a crowded market and shouting loudly that one of the other men in the market had Ebola which caused people to flee. When there is a scary threat there is a tendency to respond with fear.  

Second, Ebola is a serious illness and requires a serious response.  When the media exaggerates a situation, I tend to respond in the other direction. I downplay the seriousness of the so called crisis blaring from my TV.  I realize that there is no Ebola in the communities where HealthEd Connect works, But I'm  now also realizing that it still impacts these communities.  As the tragedy in West Africa is teaching us, if we don't take this disease seriously, the situation can spin out of control.  

Third, education is the key to responding in a serious, rational way. Without knowledge we make things up. When we have accurate information we can make an appropriate plan to respond.  By training our health workers in Ebola, they can work to dispel myths and rumors and if another outbreak occurs, they can help contain the disease before it spirals out of control. 

Last, trust is vital in dealing with this disease. We have the problem in West Africa because of lack of trust.  The people in these countries don't often trust their government officials or the hospitals near where they live. Likewise, the governments of West Africa were slow to ask for help likely due to lack of trust in the international community. Without trust there cannot be a coordinated response. 

Our health workers are very trusted by their communities.  By participating in this training they will gain further trust on a relevant topic that has been lacking in accurate information. This allows them to gain more support and trust to work on the issues currently facing their community.  I guess this Ebola training is important afterall. 

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