As health officials in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone struggle to eliminate the final cases of Ebola, a new report said some hard lessons have been learned. The group International Alert says a lack of trust between the Liberian people and their government made the outbreak worse The report’s author, Ashoka Mukpo, said that “many people mistrust official institutions and even feel threatened by them.”
Mukpo, an American, is an Ebola survivor himself. He contracted the disease last year in Monrovia. “It was a bad couple of weeks. I was very, very sick. I’ve never been that sick in my life and I was quite scared.” After being treated for five days in Liberia, he was airlifted to a medical facility in the U.S. state of Nebraska. The International Alert report is entitled Surviving Ebola: Public Perceptions of Governance and the Outbreak Response in Liberia.
“International Alert is an organization that looks at underlying dynamics to maintain peace in fragile states. And one of the things we’re really curious about with the Ebola outbreak in Liberia is how much did people’s perceptions toward government contribute to the outbreak?
And what we found when we talked to people is that there were very high levels of mistrust and suspicion towards the government’s motives. And this was really what underpinned people’s initial refusal to take their warning seriously about how deadly Ebola was,” said Mukpo. The mistrust, he said, stemmed from history and unfulfilled expectations. “On one hand, Liberia has quite a history of tension between citizens and government. It had a civil war about 15 years ago. But I think right now what people felt is that there is this tremendous sense of hope.
That with President Johnson Sirleaf’s election this would mean development and accountability for corruption and these kinds of things. And the results actually have been quite disappointing. So, people are savvy enough to see that what they were hoping would happen hasn’t actually happened.” Mukpo said Liberians had expected more from the healthcare system when the Ebola outbreak took hold.
“People felt like so many millions of dollars have gone into aid and development over the past 10 years. With the health sector that completely collapsed so quickly, there was this perception that, well, there must have been some kind of corruption – that people were taking money and not putting it into places it was supposed to go. So, fair or not, if you look at the record of this government in battling corruption, it’s been so poor that even if there were much bigger issues, you know, with how hard it is to fight an Ebola outbreak people’s perceptions automatically went to corruption.”