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Ebola: The virus of quick death: the socio-economic implications in Liberia

By Romeo D.N. Gbartea           Romeo D.N. Gbartea



The national vision 2030 research paper emphasizes how reactive the Liberia society is structured, thereby creating a condition for underdevelopment and other negative vices. Just see how Liberians continue to die of the deadly disease Ebola simply because the county is not proactive. The Country has a fire-truck approach. When the house is on fire, the fire-truck will go on the scene to check before getting water at which point in time the situation has become unbearable.

This paper intends to provide socio-economic implications on the deadly disease, Ebola; the evolution of the disease; statistical cases, analytical factors on how the disease has spread; the cultural & customary factors; preventive mechanisms; Medical sociological implications, psychological implications and how it has affected our country; societal decision making, and the way forward.

Historical background:

There are many diseases or viruses in the World that are persistent in taking the lives of people in spite of every productive action exhibited by medical practitioners to find cure. But for Ebola it has no cure. HIV/AIDS is one of the deadly diseases that has no cure but there is preventive medicine. Today, we are fighting a disease that has its root in East Africa.

Three scholars: Siegel, Anderson and Waterman (1999-1998) stated that ebiola outbreak started in 1976, and it was named after the Ebola River in Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo and but it first emerged in Sudan and Zaire. The first outbreak of Ebola (Ebola-Sudan) infected over 284 people, with a mortality rate of 53%. A few months later, the second Ebola virus emerged from Yambuku, Zaire, Ebola-Zaire (EBOZ). EBOZ, with the highest mortality rate of any of the Ebola viruses (88%), infected 318 people. Despite the tremendous effort of experienced and dedicated researchers, Ebola’s natural reservoir was never identified. The third strain of Ebola, Ebola Reston (EBOR), was first identified in 1989 when infected monkeys were imported into Reston, Virginia, from Mindanao in the Philippines. Fortunately, the few people who were infected with EBOR (seroconverted) never developed Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF). The last known strain of Ebola, Ebola Cote d’Ivoire (EBO-CI) was discovered in 1994 when a female ethologist performing a necropsy on a dead chimpanzee from the Tai Forest, Cote d’Ivoire, accidentally infected herself during the necropsy.

 How can the virus transmit to others?

Sometimes we forget to follow the logical pattern of sanitizing our hands, general care for our body, thereby leading us to be infected with different kinds of virus or germs. One of the typical scenarios is the development of what we considered as fresh colds. We sneezed and used our hands to cover our mouths, and don’t care to sanitize our hands before shaking hands and share the virus with someone. This is exactly the scenario with the deadly virus of ebola.

The World Health Organization said that Ebola virus disease (formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever) is a severe, often fatal illness, with a case fatality rate of up to 90%. It is one of the world’s most virulent diseases. The infection is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected animals or people. Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. During an outbreak, those at higher risk of infection are health workers, family members and others in close contact with sick people and disease patients. Ebola virus disease outbreaks can devastate families and communities, but the infection can be controlled through the use of recommended protective measures in clinics and hospitals, at community gatherings, or at home.

How did the virus started in Liberia?

The spread of the virus in Liberia is the result of geographical and social interactions. The country has relationship with its neighbors in the regions through porous borders. Read the geographical relationships. Liberia is a small West African Country; it has a boundary with Guinea on the North, Sierra Leone on the west, Ivory Coast on the east and the Atlantic Ocean on the South. The relationship with our neighbors is so unique that’s why Liberia is a nation-state. There is a socio-cultural and ethnic interaction with these countries. For instance, in Guinea, there is Kpelle and Lormas, similarly, these tribes are also in Liberia. Now, you have envisaged why Ebola easily penetrated the border of Liberia.

The Ministry of Health of Liberia clearly defines the origin of the disease in its March 24, 2014 press statement. The Ministry illustrated that Ebola was in neighboring towns of Guinea: Guekedou, Nzerekore, Kissidougou and Macenta. It was also reported that six (6) cases were reported of which five died: four female adults and one male child with suspected cases came from Guinea for treatment in hospitals in Foya and Zorzor districts, Lofa County. This is how the deadly hemorrhagic fever Ebola enters Liberia.

It is unfortunately to note that the disease is gaining momentum in the country killing Liberians with health care workers among the victims. The spirit of fear has grabbed most Liberian family but there are still some who are in the stage of controversy or refused to accept that the disease exists.

Let see some statistics on how our countrymen are dying from this wicked disease:

Characteristics New Confirmed Probable Suspect Total in the country
Cases 25 84 84 81 249
Deaths 2 60 50 19 129

Source: Ministry of Health & Social Welfare, Liberia: July 23, 2014.

Ebola breaks the cultural & customary values:

Every society has a value system that is unique to them. For our society, shaking hands is a cultural or customary practice. Cultural & Customary way of life entails the day to day activities that have been done over the years. In the rural setting, the people are more homogenous in their practice while in the urban locality, our practice is heterogeneous in nature. Whenever a Liberian shows their hands for greetings and you dis-allowed it, it is a disrespect and act of unfriendliness. Sometimes this action will lead to the victim not speaking to you or there will be a palava hut discussion on why you did not speak. Whatever the case is, especially in most cases you will have to apologize for not speaking. Sometimes such a person will be considered a deviant. Now, Ebola has entered the society and violated our cultural practice of shaking hands. Perchance, this disease has introduced a new cultural scenario for the future where we will not be shaking hands easily. What we now have to do is to respect our lives and relax the cultural practice of shaking hands so as to avoid the spreading of the disease.

Societal decision making:

The decision making process in our country is extremely difficult. Everybody in the country always wants their decision to be eminent. Another classical scenario is that over the years the people have found it difficult to respect their leadership. Why is this happening? Sometimes we find a difficult for the decision making of our country because our centralized system of governance. There are cases where the societal members do not respect the scientific views of professionals. This is a society that it is difficult for the people to recognize their limitation. This is a country where everybody is a politician and technical decisions can in some cases take the outlook of politics. Decision making for the country is complex because our nature as Liberians is not to hurt our countrymen but we have to make decision that will protect the image of the nation-state.

Let me remind you that Aristotle view that by nature man is a political being, does not give anybody the sole understanding that a politician knows everything. Another situation that makes it difficult for our decision making process is that many of the young people refused to go to school well but rather see themselves as a politician. Sometimes we give credence to some of these factors for our decision making. One of the situational scenarios is that a tough talker without substantive background on some technical issues will frequently be invited to discuss socio-economic, medical and political issues on radio. This kind process impedes our decision making.

Now, when ebola evaded Liberia and the Ministry of Health & Social Welfare outline the background with suspected cases, provided preventive mechanisms, some Liberians without the medical background did not respect the views of the entity. So, you see it is unfortunate to note that decision making in our society is difficult. It is a societal problem. How do we solve it? We now need to understand that technicians’ scientific viewpoints must be respected and those with radio stations must consider inviting professionals on their stations rather than amateur. There are other factors that you may consider but the best must be productive for our country. Ebola is real and it has spread because of our poor decision to prevent it.

Medical sociological implication:

Already, some of the medical sociological implications have been addressed but specificity will be good for the essence of this research paper. Medical sociology has its background in social medicine. It can be traced in the eighteen century, precisely 1955. The main thrust of this discipline is on the organizational class structure, value system or cultural factors, ritual and function of medicine as a system of behavior, the social in sickness, scientific nature of emotionalism, work and the analysis of social organization of medical setting (Oke, 2007). It addresses sociological answers between social factors and human health. With this background of the discipline and you can relate it to our current situation with the Ebola virus.

In the case of our country, the social epidemiological issue has been identified but the social perception of acceptance is becoming difficult. Many persons will have to understand that what is prevailing in the country is Behavioral Discontinuity. It means we have social behavior disease which has created changes in behavior. It will take some time for our countrymen to understand the nature of what has happened and continue to take place. Sometimes we get headace or malaria and we go on assignment to earn living for our family thinking that we can overcome the illness but Ebola has changed our behavioral pattern or twisted the arms of our life.

Economic implication:

The living condition in the country is so difficult and naturally the resources of men are so scarce that we try to manage what we have. The price of chlorine, bucket and other essential goods prices have escalated because of its relationship with the Ebola disease. Incentives for maintenance officers will eventually increase because the only motive now is to improve our sanitation condition. For those who will not withstand the condition will have to shift their priority to purchase ticket to leave the country. Another economic case is that Arik Air, a Nigerian airline company, on July 27, 2014 suspended their flight in Liberia. You know definitely that those who are working with the company will be faced with some economic challenges. They have not projected that the airline will be closed abruptly. Some restaurant or cook shops will not accomplish their normal income because of the change in behavior. Many persons will not go these entertainment centers because they want to avoid contacts. There are many more economic situations associated with the outbreak of the virus in the country.

 Psychological factor:

There is no condition of life that enters the society without affecting the human person. When there is change in behavioral pattern, it sometimes comes with psychological problem or stress developed. Our ability to cope with the change in behavior is significant for the human person. Ebola has caused an imbalanced behavior in our society which is creating psychological issue in all spectrums. Can you imagine a professional Liberian: Patrick Sawyer who was going on assignment for his country, his body has been criminated? It is so worst that many family members and Friends in the country have broken down psychologically. Just imagine what has been the psychological impact of the Ugandan Doctor, Sam Mutooro Muhumuza family. There is a complete outburst of emotional tension of Liberians especially those who lost their immediate family and relatives on ebola. Some of the families or relatives cannot believe that there is no decent burial for their dead. It is psychologically outrageous.

Another emotional situational scenario that was reported in some dailies was the Liberian man who set the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare on fire because according to some respondents he blames the lack of doctors and nurses at major government hospitals to cater to his sick relative, thereby leading to the death of his family member. Let us examine another case: whenever somebody hears the news that some of their friends are leaving the country as the result of ebola virus they get so worried and imbalance. Thus, Ebola has created psychological tension for the Liberian society.

Conclusion and way forward:

The Ebola virus that continues to kill Liberians and other nationals is real and there are many implications as the result of the outbreak. The serious and most deadly implication is that it is very fast and we must understand that there will be change in the social system. All we need to do is to adapt to this change and follow the preventive measures. We need to be proactive in our decision making in the country and we must not make mockery of serious issue that has the tendency to take our life away. The scientific viewpoints of professional Liberians must be respected and taken seriously in the implementation of policy decision. We have to be non-violent in our approach. We have to accept the reality of the disease and stop creating the unnecessary fear among the people. In the real sense of the world the deadly virus Ebola has created behavioral disease due to its fast nature to kill anybody on the planet. We know in spite of its tedious challenge it is posing for existence, we will overcome it.


Romeo D.N. Gbartea a Liberian with two bachelor degrees from the University of Liberia: B.A. in Sociology, with minor in Economics, and B.A. Degree in History with minor in Anthropology. I hold a M.Sc Degree in Industrial Sociology from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. I started my Ph.D program in the same University in 2011/2012 but due to some economic constraints I have to recess. I have written many papers and served as the head for the society group for the national vision 2030 in Liberia. I previously worked as Decentralization program consultant at the Governance Commission of Liberia. Currently, I am the fiscal decentralization Consultant at the Ministry of Finance & Development Planning. I worked as consultant for the Environmental protection Agency in Liberia to do Mid-term Evaluation Report: “Enhancing Resilience of Vulnerable coastal Areas to Climate Change Risk in Liberia”. 

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