Association for Africanist Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa lack medical personnel and have poor surveillance systems to detect and report diseases to the Ministry of Health and WHO. In recent Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo there have been long lag times from when Ebola symptoms were first noticed in the community to when a response and official outbreak was declared. The delayed response enables the disease to spread and can lead to unexplained deaths and fear among the local communities. This fear can translate to mistrust of NGOS, WHO and international response teams. In Sub-Saharan countries, patients often seek treatment from traditional practitioners and faith healers who are highly respected within their communities. These healers have been implicated in the delayed referral of suspect cases to health authorities. Religious leaders and healthcare workers have long been associated with Ebola outbreaks since they often have the rare presence and health facility in remote locations. This paper proposes a surveillance system that utilizes existing networks of traditional practitioners and religious leaders and SMS text messaging in epidemic prone countries such as the DRC in Sub-Saharan Africa. The potential benefits of a system, potential barriers to establishing the system, and interdisciplinary/international team needed to move the project forward are explored. Including traditional practitioners and religious leaders in surveillance could decrease the response time and help build trust with the community. Early detection and response to an epidemic can contain the disease and prevent it from spreading within the country or to other countries.