By Glenn Laverack, PhD
- Disease outbreaks present a unique set of circumstances that require fast and innovative strategies to ‘think outside the box’ and to ‘think ahead’ to better work with communities.
Disease outbreaks create fear and rumour in communities, often based on poor communication, cultural misconceptions and weak program delivery.
- A disease can move across geographical, social and cultural boundaries and takes fear and mistrust with it leading to community resistance, non-compliance and security incidents.
- A better understanding of how to work with security forces, local militia and rebel groups is essential when working with communities.
- People do not resist change they resist efforts to change traditional beliefs and behaviours and respect for the culture and local autonomy are essential in community work.
- Social science is crucial to understand the socio-cultural complexity of communities and how these circumstances can be best applied to an outbreak response.
- Lessons learned from efforts to eliminate polio and HIV/AIDS and traditional practices such as FGM can offer valuable insights into working with communities.
- Vulnerable groups in society such as migrants, survivors, unregistered persons, transient and sex workers and transgender can be neglected in a program response.
- Gaps in knowledge still exist on how to work with communities in urban slum, remote and cross-border settings.
- Strengthening networks and the capacity building of community-based organisations are essential initiatives in any program response.