In the war-torn Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, there's a much bigger battle to be won than fighting the deadly Ebola virus: mistrust and misinformation.
This is the highlight of a new Harvard University study now published in Lancet Infectious Diseases. According to it, at least one in every four residents in the region doesn't believe that the Ebola virus is real.
Learning The Sentiments
For the study, the researchers surveyed 961 adults from Sept. 1 to 16, 2018. These individuals lived in Butembo and Beni. They also came from more than 400 cells and avenues.
The respondents answered standardized questionnaires with the guidance of the researchers. The team then used multivariate models to identify important variables such as their level of institutional trust.
The analysis revealed 349 people trusted the local authorities. Worse, 230 of the respondents believed the Ebola virus isn't real, which also revealed how widespread misinformation was in the country.
Over 30 percent of them thought the outbreak was only a fabrication for financial gain or was a form of destabilization.
The Role Of Violence
Eastern DRC is currently experiencing another wave of Ebola outbreak. With about 1,000 cases and 629 deaths, it is touted as the second deadliest of its kind in history. It also has the potential to spread in nearby Uganda, according to the World Health Organization.
Ebola vaccines are available, but they also come with significant side effects. They may also not be enough for the number of high-risk individuals in the area.
Fighting the disease means implementing different strategies simultaneously such as reduced communication, vaccination, and safe burial practices.
All these, however, require not only the proper dissemination of information but also acceptance and trust from the public.
Many factors may be contributing to the low perceived trust, but for the researchers, one of them has a vital influence: violence.
Conflicts in the region, which have been going on for more than 20 years, lower the residents' feeling of security. They also learned to approach the government and even healthcare workers with more caution.
They limit their movements, which might have allowed the virus to spread faster within communities.
They also threaten the presence of humanitarian agencies such as WHO and Red Cross. Deadly attacks persisted after the completion of the study that Doctors Without Borders didn't assign any more staff in two health centers in the epicenter.
The study revealed distrust decreased the chances of them doing preventive behaviors.
Humanitarians and healthcare workers are not giving up, but they may need to be more strategic with their approaches.
"Ebola responders are often from outside local communities, so building trust via local leaders and service providers should be a cornerstone of efforts to engage with people to control outbreaks. This is particularly important in conflict zones where information about outbreaks can become politicized," recommended Dr. Patrick Vinck, lead researcher.