Ebola knowledge important in Corona times

2020-04-01

Mats Utas
Mats Utas

Communities with experience of Ebola are likely to fare better than others as the coronavirus pandemic spreads across Africa, according to researcher Mats Utas.

He recalls the bleak outlook when Ebola started to spread in West Point, a crowded informal settlement in Liberia’s capital Monrovia. Utas in September 2014 had been called in to assist Prof. Hans Rosling and a team of Swedish health aid experts in Liberia. Once the virus had taken hold in West Point, the question of self-quarantining became urgent. But cramped living conditions, with many families sharing a single room, made it evident just how easily a virus could spread.

- We shook our heads asking, "How is this going to work?", says Utas, now a professor of anthropology at Uppsala University.

However, within a year the epidemic had been contained. People rapidly learnt how to cope with the deadly new infection.

- People were incredibly inventive in finding ways to nurse the sick, to care for family members and neighbours. In the midst of panic, people started working together – social cohesion was strengthened, Utas says.

The new coronavirus, Covid-19, like Ebola is categorised as a nosocomial disease, meaning that it typically spreads in hospitals and places where many people gather. Given the experience they developed during the Ebola epidemic, Utas thinks Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are likely to fare better than other African countries during the current outbreak.

Text: Mattias Sköld

Read more about how Ebola was contained and why it is relevant now

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