Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 August 2019

Trust is crucial if we are to counter the threat of Ebola

The virus has reached the city of Goma, yet still many refuse to believe that it is real

A health worker wearing Ebola protection gear in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. REUTERS
A health worker wearing Ebola protection gear in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. REUTERS

On Sunday, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s health ministry confirmed that Ebola had reached the city of Goma, after a pastor was tested positive for the virus upon arriving there by bus. Since the start of the outbreak in DRC last year, experts had been dreading the spread of the disease to the lakeside city, which a doctor with the World Health Organisation's Ebola response unit described as "the door of this region to the rest of the world". Goma is a hub for transport and commerce on the Rwandan border, and home to more than 2 million people. An epidemic in such a densely populated city would be catastrophic. Fortunately, authorities have been quick to respond. The bus passengers and the driver have all been identified and vaccinated against Ebola on Monday, according to the ministry of health.

Although authorities and health organisations are doing their best to contain the epidemic, Ebola is still taking lives and spreading across the country. Part of the problem is the lack of security that has left health facilities vulnerable to attacks by militiamen in a region ridden with conflict. But a more pressing issue is that part of the population simply does not trust authorities or even medical personnel. Last March, a survey in Eastern DRC showed that one quarter of respondents believe Ebola is not real, and a third think that the outbreak was fabricated for economic or political gain.

It is not hard to see why people who have been forgotten in times of war, poverty and disease, would find it hard to believe that the international community now genuinely wants to help. Widespread corruption in DRC and the suspension of presidential elections in regions affected by Ebola, last December, all contributed to fuel these conspiracy theories. And this distrust has caused more damage to the Congolese than anyone else. People are turning down life-saving vaccines and families are refusing to report Ebola deaths, although victims are most contagious at the time of their passing. Authorities have all the medical know-how to contain this epidemic. Now, more must be done to win people's trust, before it is too late.

Updated: July 15, 2019 04:37 PM

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