Overcoming the stigma of Ebola in the latest outbreak in West Africa

Gloves and boots used by medical staff, drying in the sun, at a center for victims of the Ebola virus in Guéckédou, in the Nzérékoré Region of Guinea. Doctors find they can control the outbreak of Ebola, but an outbreak of fear seems unstoppable. (Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images)


The Ebola virus is a dangerous contagion and fighting it requires special skills and special dedication. Doctors in West Africa believe they're up to the task of containing the latest outbreak, but fighting the stigma that comes along with it is a real challenge.

"The reason why this is one of the most challenging outbreaks is that first we see a wide geographic dispersion of cases. So, this is coming from a number of districts as well as a large city in Guinea, Conakry. Two, as you know, when we are dealing with Ebola, we are dealing with a quite lethal infection and because of that, these kind of outbreaks are often surrounded by a great deal of fear and anxiety, creating rumours and making communication both challenging and very important."

Dr Keiji Fukuda, WHO Assistant Director-General, Health Security & Environment

So, as Doctor Keiji Fukuda of the World Health Organization explains, doctors have two outbreaks to treat in West Africa. People contaminated by the Ebola virus and the people contaminated by fear of the Ebola virus.

As many as 90 per cent of the people who fall ill with Ebola, die. In this latest outbreak, more than half of the infected patients did not survive. Health officials are especially worried because this is the first major outbreak to hit West Africa. The outbreak is centered in Guinea, although cases have been confirmed in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Several cases are suspected in Mali. It's easy to understand why so many people fear Ebola, it's much harder to manage those fears.


Early this month, Rose Komono became the first victim to have beaten the Ebola virus in Guéckédou, a region
which has borne the brunt of the deaths in the impoverished West African nation. (Reuters/Misha Hussain)

Tim Jagatic is a Canadian doctor with Medecines Sans Frontieres. He is currently working at a government hospital in Guinea that has set up a special unit to deal with Ebola patients. We reached him at the hospital in Conakry, Guinea.

Health care professionals take precautions, and must manage their personal fears when it comes to treating patients with Ebola. The virus can be as lethal to doctors and nurses as it is to the people they treat.

For a firsthand account of what it's like to get the disease and survive Ebola, we were joined by Sister Sharon Aber. She's a nurse at the Lacor hospital, in Gulu, Uganda, where we reached her.

dominque-corti-thumbnail.jpgIf you're interested in learning more about the work Lacor hospital does in Northern Uganda, listen to our interview with Dominique Corti, the daughter of the founders of Lacor hospital.


Barry Hewlitt has looked into the stigma associated with Ebola. He is a medical anthropologist at Washington State University and the author of Ebola Culture and Politics:the Anthropology of a Disease. He was in Vancouver, Washington.

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This segment was produced by The Current's Lara O'Brien and Catherine Kalbfleisch.

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