Saturday, December 1, 2012

Ebola Outbreak: Not Due to Witchcraft

Here is the most recent WHO update on the Ebola outbreak in Uganda; as of November 28 there were 6 confirmed and 1 probable case (case numbers have been adjusted from those previously reported due to testing coming back negative from several patients). There have been 4 deaths. 

One of the key challenges with managing the outbreak has been the belief in some communities that deaths have been due to witchcraft and not Ebola. This reminds me of a poster I saw in a clinic in rural Kenya back in 2001:
In many traditional African cultures disease is seen as having a supernatural origin or component, and  witchcraft is believed to play a major role in disease acquisition. Such beliefs can compromise disease prevention efforts. Traditional beliefs wherein HIV is considered to be spread via witchcraft have been associated with higher risk sexual activity (such as not wearing condoms), for example. 

At an herbal medicine shop, South Africa (author's photo)
The WHO report notes working with local religious leaders and traditional healers to facilitate good infection control practices that will help halt the spread of Ebola. Understanding how disease is perceived by a given community and close integration with local health leaders is critical in addressing any health issue, especially one as deadly as Ebola

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