In August 2014 the World Health Organisation declared Ebola a ‘global health emergency’. Two years on, the health crisis has passed but the epidemic caused social divisions and tensions that are still having repercussions today.
Ebola affected everyone. Entire communities were quarantined, markets and schools were closed, inflation soared and people were in a constant state of fear. With little early communication about the disease and how it was spread rumours and misinformation sparked fear and suspicion. People often mistrusted local government officials, health workers and Ebola survivors who quickly became ostracised and isolated from communities.
The need to support the return and social acceptance of these groups was critical throughout the crisis and continues despite the epidemic being declared over – but what is the best approach to take?
Our research and experience during and post-Ebola has shown that attempts to ‘reintegrate’ ostracised individuals back into communities have, in many cases, reinforced stigma and exclusion. By focusing on the needs of an individual, through one-off meetings with community members, the process ignored the collective suffering of the entire community and bred resentment.
Our approach is one of reconciliation. This means creating an ongoing space for community conversations, and looks to understand the interests and needs of all parties, develop areas of common interest and recognise shared experience. Conciliation Resources supports networks of local peacebuilders called District Platforms for Dialogue (DPDs) to work within their communities to discuss grievances and overcome tensions.
It is crucial that strategies for supporting the return of ostracised and isolated groups understand the complexities of this crisis, and that no one was immune from the effects of the Ebola epidemic.
For further information read ‘Beyond reintegration towards reconciliation in the post-Ebola context.’