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22 September 2014

West Africans don't trust Ebola health workers

Health workers fighting Ebola in West Africa are facing mistrust from local populations after years of conflict.

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The killing in Guinea of eight people trying to educate locals about Ebola showed how much rural populations in West Africa mistrust authorities after years of instability and conflict, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday.

Suspicion and stigma

Eight bodies were found after an attack on a team visiting remote southeastern Guinea, a government spokesman said on Thursday, showing the dangers faced by health workers fighting the deadly virus that is surrounded by suspicion and stigma.

Guinea was crippled by decades of corruption and political instability, and the other countries worst hit by the outbreak, Sierra Leone and Liberia, suffered civil wars in the 1990s. The legacy of these traumas now poses a risk to health workers battling Ebola, WHO expert Pierre Formenty said.

Read: Ebola spreads panic better than disease

"This population in the forested area has really suffered a lot in the last 20 years. They are in a post-conflict behaviour, there is lack of trust obviously between these populations and the different governments for the three countries," Formenty told a news briefing in Geneva upon return from Liberia.

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are reeling from the Ebola epidemic that has killed at least 2,630 since March, including eight in Nigeria, according to WHO figures.

"We need to continue the combat against Ebola, we need to investigate these murders, but it should not stop us. We should continue the dialogue with the community, we should continue to explain our work, continue to show our empathy with the victims, with the families, with the communities," Formenty said.

Extra security measures

"Without that we will not be able to make our messages understood by the population. And we will not be able to control it (the outbreak)," he said.

Asked whether the WHO epidemiologists and other aid workers would take extra security measures, he said: "Vis-a-vis the additional precautions, the zero risk does not exist.

Read: Police and soldiers deployed to areas hit worst by Ebola

"We have of course security training, a battery of security measures. But things like that can happen. We all know that. And we still want to continue to fight and stop this outbreak."

The virus is spreading in the Liberian capital Monrovia, where there is a high number of cases and a "vacuum" of authority in many areas of the city of around one million, Formenty said.

"We are trying to help also some communities who have started to develop home care interventions," he said

"Because at the moment the number of beds available in Monrovia are not enough to cope with the number of probable cases that have been detected," he said. "We are seeing a lot of transmission during unsafe funerals."

Read more:

South Africa steps up Ebola response
Could the blood of Ebola survivors help patients?
Ebola cases could double every three weeks

Image: Stop Ebola from Shutterstock

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