DRC health minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga: Lack of engagement of community leaders is one of the main obstacles to the Ebola response

6 April, 2019

We have previously discussed the importance of engaging community leaders in public healthcare information and education activities. I was interested to read this is one of the main obstacles to the Ebola response. Extract and a comment from me below. Full text here: https://www.scidev.net/global/ebola/opinion/q-a-drc-ebola-cases-surpass-...

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Congolese health minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga said restoring public trust was key to fighting Ebola, as he announces new research initiatives to tackle the disease.

What, in the view of the Congolese government, are the main obstacles to bringing the outbreak to an end?

One of the main obstacles is the lack of engagement of community leaders. There have been attacks on response teams and Ebola treatment centres, but we noted that most local community leaders failed to speak up. Many fear becoming unpopular or are reluctant to commit themselves to supporting the response.

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Comment (NPW): The implication is that community leaders will hesitate to support public health efforts even if they (the leaders) could be persuaded that such efforts are in the interest of the people. By declining to publicly support such efforts, these community leaders are perpetuating the current fear and mistrust - a lamentable Catch-22 situation caused by their political self-interest. What can be learned from previous experience of tackling Ebola (and other disease outbreaks) in other countries, which might turn this situation around? One would hope that once public understanding of Ebola reaches a certain level, there would be a tipping point whereby it is is in the community leaders' interests to support public health efforts. It seems likely that at least a few leaders in DRC are already leading the way and are collaborating with public health officials. It woudl be interesting to hear examples of such successes too.

Best wishes, Neil

Coordinator, HIFA Project on Information for Citizens, Parents and Children:

http://www.hifa.org/projects/citizens-parents-and-children

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG neil@hifa.org