In an effort to crowdsource the potential solution to the Ebola epidemic, the Awareness Times, one of the largest newspapers in Sierra Leone, debuted a column last week which daily will publish public health recommendations to fight the virus.
The newspaper’s editorial team explains in a note preceding recommendations their choice to open their pages to the general public: “This new program intends to bring to the attention of the public and the appropriate authorities the various recommendations made by the people for the War against the Ebola Virus.” The column, titled “Vox Populi” (“Vox Pop” for short), will be published daily “until the Ebola Virus are [sic] completely eradicated (with no bush shaking). Please try as best as possible to read our Vox Pop Opinion pool.”
Many of the opinions are prefaced with images of the individuals suggesting reforms, and they include people from as diverse a set of backgrounds as a cosmetics vendor, a worker at the National Election Commission, a pharmacist, and a cashier. Many traders and salespeople recommended ways to help businesses continue to prosper, despite the Ebola epidemic. The cosmetics vendor noted that many of her clientele are aware that Ebola is real; thus, they are less likely to try on tester make-up or allow vendors to touch them while sampling products.
Not all of those questioned believe the government is working in the best interests of the people regarding the Ebola virus, however, which highlights the distrust that permeates the nation’s citizenry. According to the Awareness Times, one hairdresser in the nation’s capital, Freetown, asked, “How long will this take in this country?” She then “said it is like something fishy is going on in the country. She said Ebola will make a lot of people in this country rich and make some people poor.”
The “Vox Populi” column is an attempt to involve regular folk in the fight against Ebola, which has been an uphill battle, both for public health professionals and the governments of affected states. As one social anthropologist explained it, many individuals who refuse to believe in the existence of the Ebola virus or obey sanitation recommendations are “rebelling” against what they see as Western paternalism, choosing local traditional healing over scientifically advanced medicine.
Sierra Leone has been one of the countries hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic, due to a lack of sound medical infrastructure, as well as a local population reluctant to trust Western medicine. Nations had expressed such a high level of distrust in doctors–opting instead for traditional herbalists who promised magical Ebola cures–that the nation had to criminalize hiding Ebola patients inside private homes from medical personnel.
In addition to attempting to acquire sufficient resources to treat currently infected Ebola patients, Sierra Leone’s authorities had previously attempted to use a medieval quarantine method known as the cordon sanitaire to close off large Ebola-affected areas. While the original method required a complete starving out of populations within the cordon, the government of Sierra Leone permitted food and water to enter affected areas.
This week, Sierra Leone also proposed a complete nationwide “lockdown,” preventing individuals from entering or leaving the country. The government of Liberia, which is also struggling to fight the Ebola virus, had previously issued a “shoot on sight” order for anyone attempting to cross the border from Sierra Leone into the nation, hoping to prevent the spread of the disease.
Other Ebola-stricken nations continue to struggle, both against the disease and previously existing dangers in the country. In Nigeria, authorities hope to limit the Ebola spread while simultaneously fighting off the threat of the radical Islamist terror group Boko Haram. The threats currently sit at opposite ends of the nation: all of Nigeria’s Ebola cases have appeared in Lagos, a southwestern metropolis, while Boko Haram claims as a stronghold the state of Borno, in the northeast. According to Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper, however, Boko Haram is on the move, spreading panic in Adamawa state, directly south of Borno. “In the last five days, the insurgents have allegedly taken over five towns in Borno and Adamawa states,” the paper explains, and many fear the capital might be next.