The Nov. 8 news article on Ebola deaths in Sierra Leone reported that rural communities there initially fiercely resisted efforts to stem the spread of the Ebola virus through contact tracing.
But in Sierra Leone, as well as Liberia and Guinea — the three countries most affected by the Ebola epidemic — rural communities did not resist those efforts because they “saw the disease as a kind of curse that tore families apart,” as the article stated.
On the contrary, especially in my native Sierra Leone, many villagers reasonably saw the foreign workers’ contact-tracing activities involving blood tests on local residents as an extension of suspicious clinical testing related to hemorrhagic diseases such as Ebola and Lassa fever that had been conducted by Tulane University since 2006 at its research facility at the Kenema Government Hospital in eastern Sierra Leone.
Significantly, it was in that very same area where the borders of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea converge that the first-ever outbreak of Ebola occurred.
I hope the U.S. government, which funded Tulane’s research in Sierra Leone through a grant from the National Institutes of Health (which refused in August 2014 to extend the funding), and the Sierra Leone government, which approved the location of Tulane’s research facility in Sierra Leone before abruptly ordering its relocation in July 2014, recognize the crucial lesson that could have prevented the worst-ever Ebola epidemic.
That lesson is that winning the trust of communities at risk is absolutely indispensable to limiting the impact of the inevitable next Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
Mohamed A. Jalloh, Gaithersburg