Dr. Peter Salama, recently appointed UNICEF’s Global Emergency Coordinator for Ebola, took part in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” (AMA), fielding your questions about Ebola and UNICEF’s response.
Here’s a quick look at the most interesting questions from Reddit users – and Salama’s answers. Check out the full Reddit here.
Q1: Is the attempted and successful spread of panic caused by the media hindering your work?
A: I think the media has done a great job in highlighting how important this disease is and how its really important that the international community responds vigorously. It’s also important that the media continues to stick to the facts and the science with a disease that inspires so much fear. It’s also important to remember, that if you don’t live in the 3 affected countries, the risk of contracting Ebola is very, very small.
Q2: How have the cases not spread to neighboring countries in West Africa such as Cote d’Ivoire, or more in Mali? Do you think cases will appear outside of the Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia?
A: Although we haven’t had cases in Cote d’Ivoire, we have had 1 case in Mali recently and there may be more to come. All of the surrounding countries are at risk and we’ve seen outbreaks in Nigeria and a case in Senegal. So as long as there are any cases in the 3 countries, surrounding countries, and indeed all countries, are still at risk.
Q3: What can we learn from the slowing of infections in Liberia? How can those things be applied to other affected countries?
A: The critical lesson learned from the slowing of the epidemic in parts of Liberia are that communities themselves are the key to the response. So in Liberia, particularly in Lofa county, and Monrovia where in August the number of deaths peaked, communities themselves made the decision to change behaviors and practices. People stopped attending burials and brought their sick relatives to care quickly. This has probably been the single most important reason why we’re seeing a stabilization in parts of Liberia. Certainly the international response has also helped and UNICEF is proud to have been part of that story. But there is a long way to go.
Q4: Do you think that racism, classism and other social determinants are aiding the spread of ebola, such as they did with the cholera epidemics in the 19th century?
A: What’s happening now is an echo of what I remember in the early days of the HIV epidemic, working both in Africa and in Australia, and in both places people with the disease faced tremendous stigma and discrimination. The stigma and discrimination, in turn, led to people not wanting to admit to having the disease and therefore probably contributing to its spread by driving the disease underground. As well, survivors and relatives were also stigmatized. So there’s a lot in common with HIV and we need to learn those lessons quickly.
We are working with survivors of Ebola in the 3 most affected countries and most of them have lost their jobs and many of them have been rejected by their families, including kids. Health care workers, both domestic and international, are shunned by many in their communities because of fear and ignorance. So we need to combat this stigma, head on, with science and rational thinking.
Q5: What exactly is UNICEF doing to stop Ebola?
A: UNICEF’s focus is to support communities to protect themselves and to be able to access basic healthcare if any of their members contract Ebola. So in Sierra Leone, for example, UNICEF and partners visited around 80% of all households in the country to give them information on Ebola and find any sick people. This week, we are opening up 10 basic health facilities in rural parts of Sierra Leone so that patients don’t have to travel long distances away from their families and communities to get care. UNICEF is the largest supplier of the equipment for the response including the personal protective equipment that you’ve seen on TV. As well as that, UNICEF has a special responsibility when it comes to children and that includes: children who contract the disease, children who have lost their parents because of the disease, and children who have been rejected by their families because they’ve been in contact with the disease.
Still have questions about Ebola? Watch the “Explain Like I’m Five” video we co-produced with Reddit.