Politics and the securitization of the threat of the Ebola virus have influenced responses in different ways. Decades of civil war in countries most affected by Ebola made the situation worse. Several villagers lack faith in governments and foreign healthcare workers. In Sierra Leone, the government is associated with corrupt practices, non-transparent dealings, and lies.
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Some civilians claimed that both the government and healthcare workers were intentionally spreading the virus; the government wants to sell their blood or conduct rituals with patients’ body parts. Some claimed that the chlorine could be used to spread the virus, or the government simply invented the disease to get more donations. Other villagers chased away healthcare workers, rejected education on Ebola, and insisted on burying their dead according to the tradition.
Such suspicions complicated Ebola control and management.
When villagers feared that government and healthcare workers were part of the Ebola epidemic, they undermined all efforts to control the spread of the virus through isolation of infected persons. Even the WHO could only offer estimates on the numbers of Ebola casualties because it could not get actual data from any sources.
Hence, its power was equally limited. The WHO had provided the required recommendations to combat Ebola and outlined appropriate security measures to protect healthcare workers and patients. The government, however, did little or nothing to implement recommendations, protect healthcare workers, and quarantine areas.
In this case, politics and securitization play critical roles in responses to Ebola. The government reacted by declaring a state of emergency that was meant to impose strict quarantine. In many locations, however, the quarantine was not imposed as expected as villagers continued to roam freely and failed to understand its meaning.
The international community reacted in different ways. For instance, the US CDC (Center for Disease Control) provided regular updates on Ebola. Canada announced that it would not allow foreigners from Ebola-hit countries to enter its borders. Governors of New York, Illinois, and New Jersey declared their intentions to quarantine healthcare workers from West African countries with Ebola cases, while others opted for strict border controls.
The US also sent its military as a part of the securitization of Ebola. The role of the military is to ensure strict enforcement of quarantine. Consequently, many villagers could not understand why they were prohibited from moving.
In the case of West Africa, a lack of education made securitization worse. It led to a lack of trust between villagers and other stakeholders. As a result, many villagers shunned healthcare centers and providers. Securitization of Ebola did not take into account the culture of West Africans associated with touching the dead irrespective of the outcomes.
The responses offer critical implications for future approaches. Ignorance, misconception, and a lack of education were responsible for the widespread of Ebola. Effective, coherent politics and securitization of Ebola could have targeted these factors. There was a need to create awareness and educating the public about Ebola. A lack of information, behavior change, and attitudes hampered interventions. The public did not understand the facts about Ebola or practices that could have exposed them to infection.
It is the responsibility of the international community and the national stakeholders to ensure better practices in creating awareness and educating the public. There was a need for widespread education about Ebola, its existence, and its consequences. This is a targeted and responsible securitizing strategy, which could have reduced distrust between villagers and the government and foreign health workers and enhanced the global awareness about Ebola.