public health

Addressing another outbreak of Ebola in the DRC—what needs to be done?

Ebola.

Just three days ago, an outbreak of this virulent infection was reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The 2014–2016 Ebola epidemic started in West Africa and has since resulted in the deaths of millions. Saying that progress is desperately needed is by far an understatement. Yet, from a policy-centered standpoint, it remains unclear exactly how we will be able to tackle this crisis. To effectively create change, there are many things that need to occur.

1. Greater support from governments internationally

Thought that eliminating Ebola was a top priority worldwide?

It’s not.

Due to unending conflict between governments and rebelling groups, helping victims has become difficult, if not impossible, for aid workers. A recent article in Scientific American describes the difficulties researchers and scientists are facing in their attempts to test newly created vaccines. Their novel treatment strategies—ranging from blood transfusion to antibody treatments—may be rendered invisible due to internal conflict. In these war zones, social workers, scientists, and volunteers alike simply can’t give high-quality healthcare to victims. In addition, the fear of a violent death keeps the few professionals capable of helping from actually making their journey.

The underlying roots of conflict in Africa date back to a colonial era of slavery and tribal violence, but today, there are indeed practical ways to resolve the violence. Governments should put the interests of citizens above political motivations, setting the foundation for peace in the coming decades. Of course, this would require a complete internal restructuring of politics, which is nearly impossible—especially when the party in power has nothing to gain and everything to lose—but it is what the people of this world demand. Perhaps in the coming years we may see a decline in conflict, but will it be too late?

2. Increased not-for-profit involvement

When the World Health Organization declared for the first time this month that the Ebola crisis was a global emergency, this emphasized the true severity of the issue we’re facing. This action has spurred more nonprofits, such as Africare and AmeriCares, to get involved with helping more families recover. Volunteers from these organizations are putting forth their efforts in every way they can—spreading awareness, caring for victims, and taking measures to stop the spread of the epidemic—to reduce deaths. This urgent action is exactly what is needed. Yet, these organizations are in need of volunteers, as a tremendous amount of progress remains to be accomplished.

Later this year, I plan to volunteer with one such organization dedicated to help reduce the disparity between public health. Through my involvement, I hope to contribute to a greater cause: reducing the barriers to public health.

3. Culture-appreciative healthcare

Healthcare works most effectively when both parties can easily communicate and work together—unfortunately, this remains an gold standard that is often idealized instead of enacted. In our healthcare approaches, we need to consider the values and beliefs of the people we are caring for, especially when they may not subscribe to Western belief systems. For example, the Mongo are a shamanistic people who practice magic, sorcery, and witchcraft. When treating a family from this upbringing, it may be difficult to convince them that science-based medicine really does work. One may find a more receptive audience by explaining how antibody therapy pills help the body fight evil spirits, so they need to be taken regularly to do their work. In fact, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality finds that patients are more likely to follow their provider’s advice when it is explained this way. Facilitating communication between doctors and victims of Ebola is certain to lead to better outcomes.

The future is hopeful for fighting the Ebola outbreak, but as thousands of lives are at stake, it’s more important now than ever to address our problems with tangible proposals that address the roots of the problem.

Featured image credit: Lascher, Jonathan. “Why You Should Care About Ebola In Congo.” WBUR, 6 June 2019, https://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2019/06/06/ebola-global-health-congo-jonathan-lascher.

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