Friday, January 11, 2019

Two-Thirds Of All The Current DRC Ebola Viral Infections Afflict Women, Where Vast Majority Live In Poverty...

. . .and so, it makes good epidemiological "combat" sense to have the "Mother Counsellor of Beni", a voice women trust -- a local, long time radio advice on-air persona give the people of Beni unfiltered truths. Between urban legends, and intersectional conflict, the truths about the hard realities of Ebola (safe burial practices, careful and comprehensive disclosures, about ALL contacts, for robust vaccination efforts, and fastidious hand washing, as examples) are more than occasionally swallowed whole, into little more than conspiracists' rumors.

Ms. Mawatatu is steadily fighting -- with the help of WHO -- to change all that. She has been on air twice a week since 2007, and is a trusted local voice. People listen and respect her take. This is how to win hearts and minds, in the DRC:

. . . .Twice a week, Mama Mwatatu rises early and makes a two-hour trek from her home in Beni’s Cité Belge neighbourhood in North Kivu, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the local radio station. For the past 12 years, she has hosted a call-in radio talk show called “Women and Development” and has a devoted audience, earning her the nickname Mother Counsellor of Beni.

In normal times, she dispenses advice on health, relationships and child-rearing. But since this August, Ebola has shaken residents and the city is the base for outbreak response efforts in North Kivu. Mama Mwatatu’s mostly female fans have inundated her with questions: Why aren’t you talking to us about this? We don’t know what to believe. But if you tell us that Ebola exists, then we trust you.

“I told them: ‘Ebola is real, and you have to protect yourself and your family,’” Mama Mwatatu says. “But I wasn’t sure I had all the answers to the more technical questions so I got in touch with the World Health Organization (WHO) for assistance.”

And so Mama Mwatatu teamed up with WHO’s community engagement team and her two weekly shows expanded from 30 minutes to an hour.

The current Ebola outbreak in the northeast of the DRC -- the tenth since the disease was identified in 1976 -- stands out as the country’s largest. Response efforts have been complicated by insecurity and armed conflict. Another challenge is how this outbreak has disproportionately affected women. . . .

This is a very hopeful story for 2019 -- containing this urban outbreak is literally going to be achieved by shifting local perceptions. And those perceptions are not wrong, based on a historical record: more often than not, disease was used as an exploit, in these cities -- both by war-lords, and by foreign visitors (looking to run dubiously ethical pharma clinical trials -- as recently as the late-1980s). . . so re-building trust (that the Merck vaccine is the best way to arrest this scourge), and identifying all contacts of contacts, for vaccination -- will take time, in these cities. But it can be done.

And so. . . onward -- let the snow come -- "rage on -- the cold never bothered me, anyway. . ." smile.


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