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Develop education program for the community

Research community disease vector propagation in West Africa and develop education campaign based on findings to prevent further spread in Africa and also to use to pre-empt spread in other countries. Work with education systems and community organizations around the world. The WHO predicts 10,000 cases a week in a few months. Why is this number so high? What assumptions is it based upon? Spreading can only happen through very specific pathways. The disease is propagated through body fluids and bush meat so the focus must be to identify the specific pathways strategies to counter it effectively and then develop a massive education campaign that can be carried out by people known to have disease antibodies so cannot be infected by it.

Photo of James (Gien) Wong
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CDC says Ebola is spread via:

blood or body fluids (including but not limited to urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola
objects (like needles and syringes) that have been contaminated with the virus
infected animals
Ebola is not spread through the air or by water, or in general, by food. However, in Africa, Ebola may be spread as a result of handling bushmeat (wild animals hunted for food) and contact with infected bats. There is no evidence that mosquitos or other insects can transmit Ebola virus. Only mammals (for example, humans, bats, monkeys, and apes) have shown the ability to become infected with and spread Ebola virus.

Research must be carried out at ground zero to observe community members lifestyle. Obviously poor sanitation will have a lot to do with it but the specific common behaviors must be observed to see where the infection pathway is.

A potential study methodology, if a practical way can be fouind may be to install CCTV cameras in a variety of locations to record daily behavior. Another is to have benign chemical tracers introduced in the diet of community members then have means to detect where the tracers are found in a typical household. Is it found on the toilet? on door handles? on people's clothing? On their body parts? 

Perhaps the most effective strategy would be to adapt another suggestion already made here, to employ Inexpensive ultraviolet lights that can be used to identify infection vector substances such as bacteria, urine, seminal fluid and blood, which flouresce under black light. The use of UV light has the very important psychological impact  of making the invisible visible to people who do not have the scientific understanding and framework to fully grasp the problem. To scientifically illiterate people, seeing is believing. If they can see where the disease resides, it will make a strong impact.

 A number of trials can be run in the communities of each country in the hotspot whereby the entire household area of trial participants is firstly disinfected then the household members are told to go about their life as they normally do and at the end of the trial period, record the data and show trial participants how their body fluids have spread throughout the home and onto other family members. This gives local community members, who are not scientifically educated, a solid, perceptual understanding of how the disease spreads, which can be a very effective tool to make the disease more visible.

Armed with this data, community members can begin to feel a sense of empower and participate in developing effective protection strategies. This will be a very psychologically important step because it empowers community members to solve their own problem, instead of feeling like helpless victims. 

For instance, the trials may reveal that the toilet is a primary infection risk area so they can now begin to evolve methods to deal with sanitizing that area. The study may reveal that touching bodies during greetings or burial is another pathway and may develop other forms still socially acceptable but which greatly reduces the risk.

One thing I am sure such a study will reveal is that the hands of people are a major risk area of potential infection (due to sneezing and cupping with the hand for instance or not washing hands after the toilet), Hands, due to being such a utilized body part probably come in contact with body fluids more often than any other part so they can spread body fluids effectively. 

The high air velocity of sneezing can also distribute body fluids over a wide area. Knowing and seeing this, community members may develop more effective strategies to handle a sneeze. 

And what about the sewage in these areas of poor sanitation? If open sewers are used, this could be a major contamination area. Perhaps this is where an NGO developing low cost individual toilets can help. 

To deal with Bush meat, research must be done to see what the dependency on bush meat is. Is it a vital source of protein for them? Does it have a long cultural history? Are there alternatives? A nutritionalist as well as anthropologist would be good to have on such a study to find acceptable alternatives.  

People growing their own food may be a viable alternative. If chickens can be supplied, they can supply an alternative source of protein in the eggs. Fish may also be supplied  as alternate source of protein. This would ultimately be best if they are parts of an integrated small scale regenerative, closed loop food produciton system that combines aquaculture with permaculture garden.

Any lessons learned, especially on hygiene as form of prevention should be applied to all African countries to pre-empt the disease from taking root. School boards of all other African countries should educate children on lessons learned from the research done in the hotspots.

All the knowledge should be shared with all African and non-African countries to create a pre-emptive education program that will help prepare people to reduce the risk fo contagion.

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Photo of Shane Zhao

James, these are great highlights of how might we improve prevention measures through the development of community education! It would be great to your insights on the use of UV light detection with this Idea contribution: https://openideo.com/challenge/fighting-ebola/ideas/equipping-community-members-to-provide-basic-medical-care-for-family-members-with-ebola

In addition, you might also be interested to help develop this idea on building resilience through civic education: https://openideo.com/challenge/fighting-ebola/ideas/knowmore-lib-building-resilience-and-defeating-ebola-through-civic-education

Looking forward to more insights from you in the Idea phase of this challenge!