Ebola virus and community mental health

November 14, 2018
UN / Sylvain Liechti

Despite the efforts of various actors to combat Ebola virus disease (EVD) in the countries at risk, recent outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in April 2018 and in West Africa in 2014–2016 showed that there is still a significant need for effective prevention programs to eliminate the virus and limit the damages it can cause.

Considerable progress has certainly been made; however, prevention programs have not yet equipped populations with actions to help reduce the risks of infection and transmission of the virus. Moreover, the unbearable pain associated with the disease, the impression that most people infected die of the disease, its transmissible nature, and the after‑effects seen among survivors are also factors that instill fear and stigmas in communities.

Thus, on top of the weakness of prevention programs and the virtual absence of research projects to evaluate the consequences of EVD on community mental health, there is a lack of psychosocial treatment programs.

The challenge

The effects that follow an EVD epidemic — such as deterioration of the social fabric, the climate of suspicion, the physical isolation of the infected, the panicked movements within communities, the stigmatization of and discrimination against survivors, and the fear of death and the deaths of loved ones — need to be evaluated. To do so, it is necessary to evaluate their real consequences on mental health and the subjective experiences of survivors, children, women, families, and communities. This evaluation is an urgent step to improve understanding of the course of infection with the virus and protective factors, coping strategies, and resilience mechanisms that can help contain successive epidemics.

Outcomes

With the primary goal of reducing the risks of Ebola infection, this innovative project has the potential to produce significant results in research, prevention, response, communities, and training.

Based on a participatory approach involving populations and local responders, the goal of this project is to:

  • Document the consequences of EVD on the mental health of survivors, families (placing an emphasis on children and women), and communities, and identify coping strategies and resilience mechanisms;
  • Develop a consensual and effective prevention kit; and
  • Develop a psychosocial response kit suited to the cultural realities of the DRC’s Equateur province. The tools prepared as part of this project can then be adapted to other countries and regions.

This project will be implemented by the University of Ottawa, the University of Lubumbashi, and the Kinshasa School of Public Health (University of Kinshasa).