The constructions of Ebola and the struggle against the epidemic in Bundibugyo District
There was an Ebola outbreak in Western Uganda in the Bundibugyo. The outbreak which started in 2007, never received biomedical response for three months. However, as the national and international response teams arrived in Bundibugyo, conflicts, mistrust, and uncooperative tendencies erupted between the local people and the biomedical teams which hampered the effective and timely response. The researcher investigates the constructions of Ebola and the struggle against the epidemic in the Bundibugyo border district. The study focuses on establishing the local constructions of Ebola understanding as a dynamic local process in Bundibugyo. Then it examines the health-seeking knowledge contributing to the local constructions of Ebola in Bundibugyo. And further, it assesses the constructions of Ebola with conflicting explorations of epidemic complexities and cultural interlinkages. Finally, it analyzes conflicts of Ebola constructions within politics of knowledge, biosecurity, and borders. Fieldwork was done for 12 months between 2016 -2017 at the border communities of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Data was collected and analyzed using qualitative and phenomenological approaches, together with ethnographic methodology and research methods including ethnographic interviews, and participant observations in the community, in-depth interviews with cultural leaders, epidemic survivors, caregivers, and relatives who lost their loved ones during the outbreak. The findings reveal the contributions of the community responses using the indigenous health-seeking knowledge to mitigate the epidemic. Local people used their indigenous knowledge to interpret the epidemic and also to create meaning of the outbreak events. The local people’s efforts demonstrate that culturally-based responses can contribute effectively to an epidemic control response. However, while findings reveal a continued divide between the local people and the biomedical teams, it also discloses that conflicts during an outbreak are not only between natives and public health experts but also among the local people within the different ethnicities on the ground. This research also challenges the traditional perceptions of culture by medical experts as a problem that needs to be avoided. Instead, culture should be considered as the knowledge that should be cohabited within the response to an epidemic. The research also gives insight into the politics of epidemic naming showing that the names given to an epidemic greatly influence the response and the after-effects of the outbreak. Recommendations are made towards an effective response to Ebola, public health experts must seek to not only understand the local constructions but also in co-operating local health-seeking knowledge on outbreaks in a particular locale.