From Ebola to Medical Fraud: Ignorance is never bliss

Reports coming out of Liberia talk of Ebola patients being “rescued”, and materials looted, from a facility in the capital Monrovia.  Some of these patients and items are likely to end up in the capitals largest slum, increasing the chances that Ebola will spread rapidly through the capital.

One local police officer told the BBC: "This is one of the stupidest things I have ever seen in my life". "All between the houses you could see people fleeing with items looted from the patients." The BBC also reported that the assault on the clinic, mostly by young men armed with clubs, shouted insults about President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and yelled "there's no Ebola".

Unsurprisingly health workers fled, this being just the latest attack on their efforts to contain the lethal virus that has so far killed roughly 55% of the over two thousand patients who tested positive.

Ignorance of disease is rife in much of Africa, and some take advantage of this to take theological and political positions which make matters worse. While I was in Nigeria in 2009, Moslem clerics in the northern parts of the country claimed that child vaccination campaigns and effort to combat polio, were a western plot to sterilize young Moslems. Health workers were attacked and blighted lives continue from easily preventable and treatable diseases.

But while such politicized misinformation is rare, general misunderstanding is routine. A survey of staff at the University of Benin City in Nigeria found that only 11% of the staff (presumably better educated than the average population), knew how malaria was transmitted. This is alarming in a country where malaria is endemic. We have known since 1898 that malaria was transmitted by mosquitoes, yet 8 in 9 above average educated Nigerians did not know this, over a century after the discovery.

My own team’s research on medicine quality shows that the vast majority of Africans we interviewed thought that fake or substandard medicine would work, just slower than the real stuff. Is it any wonder that criminal gangs and negligent corporations target such locations? They are rarely caught selling bogus medicines, and even when they are exposed as selling awful products, most patients will still take them in the incorrect belief they will work.  

© 2014 Safe Medicines Coalition Contact Us