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Ebola in Liberia: Death by Distrust

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Friday, December 12, 2014

Public Health Campaign Foiled by Rumors

More than 2,800 Liberians have died from Ebola, more than twice the number of deaths in Sierra Leone and Guinea. More than 6,000 Liberians have been infected, ten times the number infected in any previous Ebola epidemic. Armand Sprecher, an Ebola expert with Doctors without Borders, said the staggering number of Ebola deaths in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, was unlike anything medical experts had seen before.

Helen Epstein, biologist, health researcher and author, went to Liberia to learn what was different. She concludes that while poor health infrastructure and many economic, social and cultural factors played a part in the Ebola tragedy in all impacted countries, the problem in Liberia was fundamentally political. "When the epidemic occurred, "she writes in The New York Review of Books, "many ordinary Liberians were so profoundly estranged from their government that they assumed it was lying to them and actively disbelieved the warnings that (Liberian public health official Tolbert) Nyenswah and others were desperately broadcasting to the nation and the world." The distrust, built on decades of upheaval and official corruption, was so deep, Epstein writes, that many citizens thought nurses trying to help were agents of the government who intended to poison them to create the illusion of an epidemic that would bring in international money. Read this thoughtful and disturbing story here.

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