Psychosocial effects of an ebola outbreak at individual, community and international levels

  • Van Bortel T
  • Basnayake A
  • Wurie F
 et al. 
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The 2013-2016 Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone was the worst in history with over 28 000 cases and 11 000 deaths. Here we examine the psychosocial consequences of the epidemic. Ebola is a traumatic illness both in terms of symptom severity and mortality rates. Those affected are likely to experience psychological effects due to the traumatic course of the infection, fear of death and experience of witnessing others dying. Survivors can also experience psychosocial consequences due to feelings of shame or guilt (e.g. from transmitting infection to others) and stigmatization or blame from their communities. At the community level, a cyclical pattern of fear occurs, with a loss of trust in health services and stigma, resulting in disruptions of community interactions and community break down. Health systems in affected countries were severely disrupted and overstretched by the outbreak and their capacities were significantly reduced as almost 900 health-care workers were infected with Ebola and more than 500 died. The outbreak resulted in an increased need for health services, reduced quality of life and economic productivity and social system break down. It is essential that the global response to the outbreak considers both acute and long-term psychosocial needs of individuals and communities. Response efforts should involve communities to address psychosocial need, to rebuild health systems and trust and to limit stigma. The severity of this epidemic and its long-lasting repercussions should spur investment in and development of health systems. © 2016, World Health Organization. All rights reserved.

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  • T Van Bortel

  • A Basnayake

  • F Wurie

  • M Jambai

  • A S Koroma

  • A T Muana

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