Ebola Waning: The Role of Community in Epidemic Response

Although residual fear still lingers among communities in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, recent reports show that the Ebola epidemic – which has claimed the lives of over 8,900 people – has finally showed signs of slowing in West Africa. As the disease tore through Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Mali, and the first cases appeared in the US, infectious disease experts released  grim predictions of the dire situation to come. Now, almost one year after the first case arose in March 2014, the rage of the epidemic is beginning to calm. Many have cited international assistance as the main cause for the downward trend in cases, but recent evidence seems to suggest that community initiatives and precautions have played a major role in combatting the spread of the disease.

In Liberia and Sierra Leone, neighborhoods have mobilized, healthcare workers have volunteered, and rural villagers have formed local Ebola task forces. Ebola survivors have even created their own organizations to help other Ebola survivors reintegrate back into society as they cope with trauma, grief, and potential stigmatization. A recent article published by the New York Times details the measures taken by communities in Sierra Leone who took it upon themselves to track infections, set up informal isolation centers, and even create blockades in some neighborhoods to take the temperatures of those who entered. The article also highlights an unanticipated key advantage of humanitarian response in urban settings: a more educated population is better able to adapt and change behavioral patterns – despite the tracing challenges posed by dense living conditions.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has warned that the fight is far from over, citing critical gaps in Ebola response particularly in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Officials also warn that the epidemic will not be over until cases reach zero in all three countries. Yet the resounding examples of community strength and mobilization bring hope for better prepared networks of first responders.

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