Just over a month ago, experts at the World Health Organization looked at the growing spread of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo and declined to call it a “global health emergency” because only two provinces were afflicted with the killer disease at that time.
Despite over 1,200 deaths to the hemorrhagic disease, “(it) was an almost unanimous vote that this would not constitute a PHEIC (public health emergency of international concern),” said Robert Steffen of the University of Zurich at a news conference. “We were moderately optimistic that this outbreak could be brought under control—not immediately, but still within a foreseeable time,” reported Reuters.
But instead of going away on its own, the disease doubled down on the Congolese, so much so that doctors are now calling it “the worst outbreak in the country’s history” and the second largest Ebola outbreak recorded anywhere.
It is important to recall that the DRC, by contrast with Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, has successfully contained nine Ebola outbreaks, including one that surfaced in May 2018 in Equateur province.
But after decades of government repression and ineffective international responses, civilians, not surprisingly, often regard response efforts with suspicion. The U.N. is judged to be complicit in the massacres here, and for not protecting the population except for a few battalions. And NGOs, people think they are here just to make money.”
Amid the scramble to contain the outbreak, social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp have provided a platform for all types of messages – true or otherwise.
A recent study in The Lancet found that people had been bombarded by misinformation. Sampling some 961 adults between 1 September and 16 September last year in the towns of Beni and Butembo, some 86 percent, said they’d heard Ebola didn’t exist.
About one in four, or 230 people, said they didn’t believe it existed. Similarly, some 86 percent had heard the disease was being used to destablize the area, while more than one in three believed that to be true.
One Facebook page, “Véranda Mutsanga en Révolution”, now has 230,000 members. Many users ridicule others for doubting the existence of the disease or offer tips for staying safe – while other users fan multiple conspiracy theories.
Facebook has routinely been criticized for allowing false information to spread.