Author: Sara Habibipour
The World Health Organization posted an article a few years back describing the main factors of the 2015 Ebola outbreak, and one of those factors was "Cultural beliefs and behavioral practices."
The WHO says that the countries in West Africa practice "high-risk behaviors," when it comes to ancestral burial and funeral practices. Data, as reported by Guinea's Ministry of Health, indicated that 60% of cases in Guinea would be linked to traditional burial and ritual practices. WHO staff reported that 80% of these cases were linked to culture in Sierra Leone. That's a lot!
In Liberia and Sierra Leone, burial practices are reinforced by a number of secret societies. Some bathe in water from the washing of corpses. Members of these secret societies have been known to sleep near a highly infectious corpse for several nights, believing that doing so allows the transfer of powers. Compassion is also deeply embedded in the West African culture; it is important for those people to take care of the ill, which can lead to further outbreak.
At the end of the article, the WHO states, "...when technical interventions cross purposes with entrenched cultural practices, culture always wins. Control efforts must work within the culture, not against it." Culture is an important aspect of medicine, and it cannot be overlooked, especially when it comes to an entire population. But first, we have to learn about it.