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Leveraging culture to deploy an easy, scalable and low cost solution to tackle Ebola's "cultural" issue.

If the main problem with Ebola is educating the population about the disease, we need to find a way to communicate which overcomes mistrust and helps the communities take action. TL;DR: distribute GPS-connected Bibles and Qurans.

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As the research phase has shown, the main problem preventing the containment of the virus is a cultural one:

- Lack of general knowledge about the disease
- Mistrust of the healthcare workers and of authorities
- People hiding and being ashamed of the disease
- Counterproductive habits like the ritual washing of the dead
- A general difficulty for the government to communicate with citizens.

So whom DO affected communities trust? Who will they listen to when given advice about how to prevent the disease?

As in every community, in West Africa too there are influencers, which in most cases coincide with religious leaders, pastors and imams. A lot of them are already engaged in helping the disease's containment by talking and preaching to their communities (source:

More of them can be reached by radio, the most widespread media in the country, especially if: 

insight 1: health-related messages are delivered together with target-relevant context, i.e., sermons, Quran readings, etc. But I guess that must be already done. 

But how do we reach communities who do not have radios? And how can we win the remaining skepticism and mistrust in health authorities?

We have to give influencers a gift they cannot refuse, which will convince them of the importance of disease-prevention measures and actively help them spread the word. 

In a deeply religious society, that could be... a holy book. 

Just that these holy books will be special ones. In some of the books pages, disease-prevention measures will be printed. In the cover, an active GPS module, a tiny radio and a  will be placed. Finally, a sensor also placed in the cover will be able to count the number of times the book is opened, and- once a certain threshold is reach- push an alert to a server via the GPS. 

All of this should be quite inexpensive to produce and deliver. I would appreciate it if anyone on Open Ideo could help figure out what the exact cost for -say- 500k copies would be. 

Governments and religious organizations could sponsor the distribution of Bibles and Qurans (they already do it on a massive scale: just think about the Gideons Bibles). Plus, distribution itself is not hard to do even in the remotest locations: the bibles could just be parachuted.  

This will solve several issues:
1. The gift, given by religious people to religious people, will not be rejected.
2. If distributed on a large scale, the GPS module will enable- through statistical modelling- to track population movements, enabling the authorities to know 
3. Many times affected communities choose not to seek for medical help on cultural grounds. Thanks, again, to statistics, authorities will be able to intervene in a timely fashion despite this. Troubled communities and individuals tend to turn to religion. When many cover-openings will be detected within a small area, the authorities will know that there may be an epidemic in the area. 

Of course, all of this could easily and quickly be tested on a small scale and only then be fully implemented. 

Addendum: should some communities be predominantly illiterate, the bible could be substituted by a saint's icon or a bismillah glyph. 

Looking forward to hear your feedback!


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