Ebola REACT Presentation

Ebola and its connection to civil wars
REACT Presentation at Westlake Girls High School

On the 18th of February, the REACT programme was invited to Westlake Girls High School again, this time to present on Ebola and its connection to civil conflict and poverty at the social studies teachers’ meeting. At least ten inspired social studies teachers attended the meeting from Westlake Boys High School, Rangitoto College, Whangaparaoa College, Macleans College, McAuley High School and Howick College. 

Previously known as the Ebola hemorrhagic fever, Ebola is a deadly disease caused by an infection with one of the Ebola virus strains. Important to know is that the current Ebola outbreak is already outbreak number 26, but the first one that reached epidemic proportions and occurred in West Africa. The first outbreak took place by the end of 2013 in Guinea and then spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone. According to WHO (updated 23 February), there have been 23,539 total cases of Ebola and 9541 deaths so far.

Important for the REACT team was to draw attention to the environment and context in which the Ebola outbreak took place instead of just focusing on the disease itself. Thus, it is assumed that poverty due to previous civil conflicts played a crucial role in the current Ebola epidemic. Contrary to the common belief that the African countries are suffering from frequent civil conflicts due to their ethno-linguistic fragmentation, it is more the  combination of political suppression, the impact of poverty and the lack of natural resources that result in armed conflicts. Liberia, Guinea as well as Sierra Leone all experienced quite recent civil conflicts – the second Liberian Civil War which lasted from 1999 to 2003, the 2013 Guinea clashes and the Sierra Leone civil war which began in 1991 and lasted until 2002 – and are now listed among the poorest countries in the world according to the United Nation’s Human Development Index. 

Giving a few examples about the impact of poverty and recent civil wars on the already dysfunctional health system in many African communities, the REACT team stressed that, for example in Liberia, there were 293 functioning hospitals located in the country before the outbreak of the civil war. After the civil war, however, more than 80% of these clinics had been destroyed or looted. Similarly, a survey in 2008 about Sierra Leonean hospitals showed that most of them had no or interrupted access to oxygen and electricity and only about half of them had  running water. In many of these regions, there is one doctor per 40,000 to 80,000 people, meaning that if people fall ill, they struggle to receive any treatment at all. The destroyed infrastructure and such living conditions enabled the current Ebola outbreak to reach epidemic proportions. 

The REACT presentation received a vibrant response from the teachers, leading to a brief discussion of media representation of such issues as Ebola, the Western response as well as the importance of encouraging students to look beyond the obvious and consider the events that lead to such complex emergency situations. Followed by general questions about potential other topics that the REACT programme would present on, the teachers 
were very enthusiastic about inviting the REACT team to their own social studies classes and knowledge clubs. 

For questions and resources, please contact Lynn Dudenhoefer at

 lynn.dudenhoefer@peacefoundation.org.nz