Stigma has been defined as an attribute that is deepening and discrediting. The oxymoron (expression containing words with opposite meaning) of Ebola pandemic stigma and discrimination is frightening. Ebola Virus Disease is a love and care disease. It affects mostly the care givers-immediate family members, friends, neighbors and health care providers. It is known that fear of EVD spreads faster than the disease. News of an Ebola case is sure grounds for stigmatization and discrimination.
Concerns about the spread of Ebola have led to the closures of border villages, towns and cities; cancellation of flights from one country to another, travel restrictions and treating people badly such as taking away their liberty and putting them in inhuman conditions when they travel from affected countries to others. The human race looks for every opportunity to discriminate and Ebola epidemic is not an exception.
Ebola-related stigma and discrimination are barriers to Ebola prevention and control effectiveness and accessing care in local and international settings. Many Liberians have been known to leave their communities seeking health care elsewhere. People have disowned their families, jobs and country. Others have given their lives for love, family and country.
The systematic and significant differences in stigmatizing attitudes for Ebola have been established in different countries, by different groups as well as by different individuals. Ebola Virus Disease is no longer the concerns of only the affected West African countries; it is the concern of all.
Stigma, in the past, has been associated with diseases such as leprosy, bubonic plague, tuberculosis, cholera, sexually transmitted infections (STI) and recently HIV/AIDS, that are severe and incurable and with certain human behaviors, such as homosexuality, rape, alcohol and drugs, that may not conform to certain social norms and tradition.
For Ebola, stigma and discrimination has had significant dilatory efforts on individual and on the rapid spread of the disease. As seen in several cases of Ebola Virus Disease, the fear of isolation, quarantine and rejection has led to delay in seeking treatment and care.
Since Ebola-related stigma and discrimination act at both the societal and individual levels, and there is an urgent need, especially not that we have turned the curve, to address issues of Ebola stigma to promote adequate, accessible, affordable and acceptable Ebola program and services; monitor issues of human rights abuses and proactively enhance surveillance program that would prevent future outbreak.
Several interventions to reduce stigma and discrimination have been noted through sports, music and politics. The band aid musical concert in the UK, FIFA’s campaign “11 against Ebola” and the contribution of troops as well as medical resources from the USA and other countries are great programs with potential ability to reduce stigmatizing attitudes and discriminatory actions. We applaud the decision of CAF to disqualify Morocco and we are encouraged by the decision to continue as planned with the African Cup of Nations.
At the home front, Messengers of Peace (MOP)-Liberia reiterates its call for Government to open our schools.
Now that we are witnessing the result of our acceptance for collective actions, the message is a simple one. Stop the stigma and discrimination. As we intensify our efforts at eradicating Ebola from Liberia, additional measures should be instituted to focus on the prejudicial attitudes of community members to those who recovered from the disease. Part of our focus is to support a stronger public health system.
Like every Liberian, I am happy to note that we now have a grip over Ebola and that together we can beat Ebola. I look forward to the time we can write on the various stories on Ebola. My father always tells me that the best explanation for all things is time.
Until next week, when we come to you with another article on: “Issues of Rights and Responsibilities”, Peace First, Peace above all else, May Peace prevail on earth.