Researcher releases study at NOLA Ebola conference

Published: Nov. 17, 2014 at 11:01 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 17, 2014 at 11:55 PM CST
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Fear is contributing to Ebola's high mortality rate. That is according to an American researcher who conducted a study in Guinea, West Africa, and presented his findings to a conference of public health experts in New Orleans on Monday.

The conference was underway as headlines about the Ebola death of Dr. Martin Salia in a Nebraska hospital were making global headlines. Salia, a surgeon, died after being brought to America from his native Sierra Leone, where he was working to fight Ebola. Salia lived in Maryland.

"I don't think the death of Dr. Salia this morning is going to help that a whole lot. I think that the fear levels are astronomical," said Kim Kargbo, president of Women of Hope International at the American Public Health Association.

She said even medical professionals who are originally from West Africa are showing reluctance about returning.

"There are a lot of doctors and nurses in the diaspora that I think should and could be going back to Sierra Leone to help because they have those underlying cultural understandings that would really help," she said.

Cultural obstacles abound.

"A lot of people in rural Guinea were afraid of Ebola and thought that maybe the Red Cross, or other organizations were bringing the disease," said Tim Roberton, a researcher at Johns Hopkins.

He was on the ground in Guinea for two weeks in July and returned to the U.S. in August. His findings were released at the conference.

"They said no, we don't think this is Ebola, we're just going to take care of this ourselves. So they, instead of doing a safe burial as we do now with Ebola patients, they cleaned the bodies themselves, and then they buried the body themselves and it just led to all of the spread of the disease in the village," said Roberton.

Those attending the session Roberton addressed said fear has not disappeared in the United States, either. Salia was the second person to die on U.S. soil. The first was civilian Thomas Eric Duncan, who came to the states with the virus after traveling from West Africa. Public health experts said it is important that the public shun the fear and trust the science about how Ebola is spread.

The CDC said it is not an airborne virus and is contracted when people come in contact with bodily fluids from someone already sick with the virus. Still, with the cultural brick walls in parts of West Africa, public health experts say they have their hands full as they try to save more lives.

"It's not just a matter of resources, it's not just a matter of coming into West Africa with our intelligence, our great ideas, we really need to listen to people and listen to people in the communities, you know, mothers and fathers, and ask them what the problems are," said Roberton.

In addition to Salia and Duncan, five others who contracted Ebola in West Africa and were treated in the U.S. survived the disease, as did the two nurses in Dallas who got Ebola after treating Duncan.

The conference has attracted more than 13,000 attendees.

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