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Updated On: Thursday, November 23 2017

Against Ebola, Battling Myths and Urban Proximity is Half the Struggle

Content by: South-South News

15 October 2014, New York, USA | Brendan Pastor - In the fight against Ebola, health officials are finding it particularly challenging to limit the virus's spread in areas of Africa that are densely populated and whose residents are accustomed to close proximity with one another.

A new campaign in Freetown, Sierra Leone, launched by volunteers with UNICEF, aims to dispel myths and misinformation about Ebola, while helping promote safer practices among households to avoid the rapid spread of the virus.

Called the House-to-House Ebola Talk, over 28,000 volunteers from the social and health communities have reached more than 1.5 million households in Freetown with critical information about hygiene, sanitation, and what to do when encountering a person with Ebola.

But in a city as densely populated as Freetown, the spread of the disease is virtually guaranteed to be faster as more persons come into contact with one another.

"This city is very congested," says Edmond Bankiu, a communications officer and volunteer with UNICEF.

"If we are talking about avoiding touching, avoiding contacts with this kind of congestion that is taking place in Freetown, we feel that we are really worried that the number of cases is doomed to increase," Bankiu warns.

 

With over 9,000 cases of Ebola reported and over 4,400 deaths so far - including two in the United States - health officials are concerned that the disease will reach more people around the world if dramatic measures aren't taken.

World Health Organization assistant Director-General Bruce Aylward warned reporters at a Geneva press conference on Tuesday that cases of Ebola could reach between 5,000 and 10,000 per week in the hardest-hit African countries, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone by December.

Encouraging signs are emerging, such as the clinical trials of a vaccine being tested in Canada, and improved health procedures among nurses and doctors on the ground in West Africa.

However, without a significant increase in safety measures, availability of trained health staff, and logistical and financial resources, it seems likely that the disease will continue to spread - globally, too.

House-to-House Ebola Talk is one of the many on-the-ground initiatives being pioneered by officials in an attempt to reduce Ebola's spread by encouraging better health practices among Africa's urban residents.

But over the course of their work, volunteers are finding that urbanization and old myths about the disease are hard to beat.

"Ebola is infringing on more or less peoples social and traditional practices," Bankiu says, referencing customs such as embracing family and friends with kisses on the cheek, heightening the possibility of transmission of fluids containing the Ebola virus.

He also indicated that there is a strong skepticism among many of Freetown's residents about the ability of the health system to combat the disease. Distrust is rampant, and part of the mission of health organizations is to help restore trust to ensure maximum impact of relief and prevention efforts.

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