Cultural practices, beliefs aid Ebola spread in West Africa

BY: Rebecca Quaicoe-Duho

Cultural practices and traditional beliefs have been identified as factors which are fuelling the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), many communities that had been affected by the disease, believe that Ebola is a disease of the gods.

The Director of the WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr Luis Gomes Sambo, made this known at an emergency ministerial meeting in Accra, on the Ebola disease outbreak in West Africa.

He said the cultural practices and beliefs were contrary to the recommended public health preventive measures.

As of July 1, 2014, 750 cases of Ebola had been recorded and had resulted in 455 deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, where the locals hold the belief that it is a disease from the gods.

The virus is said to have also affected 60 health workers causing 32 deaths.


Cross-border movements

Dr Sambo also attributed the continuous spread of the disease to the extensive movement of people within and across borders in the three most affected countries.

“The current Ebola outbreak has the potential to spread outside the affected countries and beyond the region if urgent and relevant containing measures are not put in place,” he cautioned.

He, therefore, urged ministers in the affected countries to put in every effort to contain the outbreak.

Dr Sambo called on ministers of health in the neighbouring countries to “strengthen disease surveillance and increase investment in epidemic preparedness”.

He also asked them to put in place measures to avert cross-border transmission of infections.


Call for research

The outgoing Minister of Health, Ms Sherry Ayittey, expressed worry that at a time when the sub-region was winning the fight against infectious diseases in general, those caused by viruses remained a threat.

“Although this is not the largest outbreak ever, given its spread across three countries, the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is known to be one of the most challenging WHO and its partners have ever faced,” she noted.

Ms Ayittey appealed to development partners to support the affected countries with the needed funds to help fight the virus and forestall its further spread.

She also called on scientists in the region to help come out with vaccines to help control the spread, pledging that Ghana’s Noguchi Centre for Research would help in the search for a vaccine.

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