A new study from the University of California, Los Angeles, says the Ebola outbreak could provide important insights for policymakers in responding to a new coronavirus pandemic, namely the importance of public participation and trust during a health crisis. By the end of the Ebola outbreak in early 2016, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that there were more than 28,000 Ebola cases in West Africa, about half of them from Sierra Leone.
Simple interventions that encourage people to seek treatment increased ebola case sreporting by 60 percent, and researchers believe it reduced the virus’s reproduction rate by 19 percent.
The study was conducted in 254 public clinics in Sierra Leone, covering about 1 million people, or more than 15 per cent of Sierra Leone’s population. The study tested the effectiveness of two interventions aimed at increasing public participation and trust in the country’s health system.
In the first intervention, community members participated in meetings with local health clinics and made complaints and recommendations aimed at improving health services. Clinic staff also shared public health advice with community members, such as encouraging women to enter clinics to give birth.
Another intervention is an incentive program that rewards health care providers at clinics that do a good job of providing services. The aim is to motivate providers to encourage their clinics to provide higher quality care.
The study found that these accountability interventions prior to the Ebola outbreak had stimulated a significant increase in detection and reporting of Ebola cases. Higher detection rates have led to more effective outbreak containment, with Ebola deaths reduced by 30 per cent in areas benefiting from interventions.
Darin Christensen, an assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, says people who lack confidence in their health care providers are less likely to seek tests and treatment when they feel unwell. This hinders the identification, treatment and isolation of infected patients and further limits the spread of the outbreak.
The Ebola outbreak has shown that strengthening the links between health service providers and the communities they serve can strengthen outbreak control, and public participation and confidence can help people decide whether to heed these calls.