Growing panic over Ebola

Liberia and Sierra Leone have declared a 90 day emergency to fight the deadly Ebola virus. Meanwhile panic is growing among the population where distrust for government and health authorities is deep.

– Trust for the state is incredibly low in these countries. There are widespread rumors that hospitals purposely spread the disease and that the state is making money from the deaths, says Mats Utas, researcher at The Nordic Africa Institute with long experience from Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The two countries are at the epicenter of the spread of Ebola. The current outbreak started in neighboring Guinea in March earlier this year. So far 932 people have died, according to The World Health Organization WHO.

In Liberia people are said to drag the bodies of dead family members to the streets in order to escape being quarantined. The wards put up by the government to isolate those infected are considered as death traps.

In Sierra Leone the army has encircled the city of Kenema in order to stop the spread of the disease.

– This creates the same type of situation as when the plague ravaged Europe. People feel trapped and this of course adds to the prevailing state of panic.        

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has said that "ignorance and poverty, as well as entrenched religious and cultural practices, continue to exacerbate the spread of the disease."

– This is wrong. The real problems have to do with poor dissemination of information, weak infrastructure and few and poorly educated doctors and other medical personnel, says Mats Utas.
– On top of this is the widespread distrust of the state and international help organizations, which further worsens the situation, he adds.

Staff from Doctors without borders have said that they have been threatened by the local population.

Mats Utas thinks that some problems could be avoided if help workers had better knowledge of local traditions for treatment of those who are sick and of funeral rites.

– One cannot expect to be greeted as guardian angels, especially not when you’re dressed in protective suits and look like someone from outer space.   

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