24 August 2016
Ebola outbreaks are devastating. After the media fanfare around an outbreak has dissipated, life does not go back to normal for affected societies. Fear remains a driving force in people’s lives. According to a BBC report, women in Guinea are not getting antenatal care from clinics because they have a fear of contracting Ebola. Consequently, there has been a rise in infant mortalities. Babies are also not getting vaccinated, which has resulted in a wave of outbreaks of measles and polio. Overall, clinics in Guinea have seen a decline in patients, and people are increasingly returning to traditional medicine. Seeing infected loved ones not return from clinics left people traumatised, as did seeing corpses in body bags everywhere.
Waves of mental health issues always accompany epidemics. Survivors of Ebola experience posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a range of other psychological disorders including depression. Survivors are being ostracised by society, which in turn makes it difficult for them to economically provide for their families. Many have been unlawfully evicted from their homes, and are being denied access to communal water supplies. It is estimated that 1 in 5 Liberians that were employed prior to the last Ebola outbreak, are now unemployed. Thankfully, there are non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that have committed themselves to reintegrating Ebola survivors into society. These NGOs are providing education and jobs, but there is still a long way to go.
More studies need to be done to fully understand the after-effects of Ebola, both physiological and psychological. Because the 2014 Ebola outbreak, which primarily affected Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, was the largest one to date, it is expected that a lot more data will become available. In the meantime, concerted efforts must be made to provide better psychological care to survivors. This should also be accompanied by more awareness drives to curb ignorance. It is important that these mental health issues are dealt with accordingly, as it has a direct impact on fighting infectious disease outbreaks down the line.