Preventing Ebola TogetherBy Scovia Faida Charles
Some of the people in South Sudan believe that Ebola is not real. Some even argue it is a complication resulting from having malaria. When beliefs and practices are rooted in culture, it becomes harder for communities to change behaviour to avoid the risks of deadly diseases such as Ebola. For instance, consuming the meat of wild animals can lead to serious diseases. However, various clans in South Sudan consider it a delicacy being offered during traditional events in communities. Also, some people value it more than ordinary meat, claiming it is best for one’s health.
“A handshake is a sign of love in our community. In the church, we do a lot of handshakes after the service. Yet it is another way of contracting Ebola,” shares Pastor Juma of a church in Yambio, close to the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
People in the community began to worry about how they would be perceived by others if they decline a handshake. “However, this is also a sign that they are now aware of the disease and they are prepared. They wash their hands with water and soap all the time and keep their environment clean,” he adds.
“Community participation makes the preparedness for this disease sustainable. It is a key factor here in South Sudan as we have experienced the same situation in 1976 and 2004”, says Charles, World Vision’s Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) Coordinator in Western Equatoria Zone.
He adds, “Ebola needs everyone's cooperation and it also requires a lot of resources. I encourage my fellow South Sudanese that we join our hands together to prevent the disease from getting into the country. Together we can mitigate its devastating effects.”
Elizabeth, 55-year-old, said that it has not been easy adapting to the new ways of living since the outbreak of Ebola was declared in DRC. But the awareness created in the community is really a good initiative to keep people aware of its dangers and risks.
“I now encourage my family members to be vigilant and rush to the hospital for examination anytime they feel sick or get any of the Ebola signs,” Elizabeth says.
Currently, World Vision runs screening services for surveillance in nine borders and points of entry sites, one isolation unit, five holding units and several health facilities in Western Equatoria Zone.
In the culture of some South Sudanese groups, people tend to sit next to the dead body or cry while touching the body of their loved ones during funerals. They bathe them before burial, which poses dangers of spreading the disease.
Margret, who works at the screening point in the border of South Sudan and Congo in Yambio, recalls that Ebola claimed so many lives in 1976. She says, "The disease was unknown to many people, and I do believe that this [high number of casualties] was due to body contact with the dead.”
Charles further shares, “I have prepared my family in many ways, making them understand that it is a dangerous disease but can be prevented. I made sure they observe handwashing, proper hygiene, and avoiding risky practices like eating bushmeat and contact with bodies from suspicious deaths.”