Preventing the spread of Ebola

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Hand washing is one of the crucial measures in protecting oneself from Ebola. (P
Hand washing is one of the crucial measures in protecting oneself from Ebola. (Photo: Universal Gambia and Eawag on behalf of Oxfam America)

At the time, although neighbouring countries were afflicted with the virus, The Gambia was Ebola-free, and has remained so to date. The charity focussed on raising awareness among the local population and on changing habits - including regular handwashing with soap, calling the Ebola hotline when suspected cases of infection arose, and not touching those who were ill. In parallel with this campaign, behavioural psychologists at Eawag conducted a field study on how effective each of the interventions was.

"The psychological elements of such campaigns are very often overlooked", says Eawag psychologist and behavioural biologist Hans Joachim Mosler. According to him, the behaviour of humans is a combination of psychological influences. In the case of Ebola prevention, these include observing what others are doing; the perceived certainty that a particular behaviour will prevent a disease, or the commitment to behaving in this way oneself.

The results of the field study indicate that three intervention measures in particular contributed to the desired changes in behaviour: home visits, posters in public places, and information sheets. Handing out hygiene kits that contained soap and a flyer, on the other hand, were ineffective - in other words, they did not lead to increased handwashing. "Clearly, this intervention did not have any psychological influence that could have led to a change in behaviour", says Hans Joachim Mosler. The findings from this study are important for future outbreaks of Ebola, he says, as well as for other epidemics.

Gamma, A. E.; Slekiene, J.; Mosler, H.-J. (2019) The impact of various promotional activities on Ebola prevention behaviors and psychosocial factors predicting Ebola prevention behaviors in the Gambia evaluation of Ebola prevention promotions, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(11), 2020 (18 pp.), doi: 10.3390/ijerph16112020 , Institutional Repository