The new calm in combatting Ebola

As health officials rush to contain a new outbreak of the virus in Africa, they are applying lessons from the 2014-16 crisis about the need to contain fear.

Karsten Voigt/International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies via AP
Members of a Red Cross team don protective clothing before heading out to look for suspected victims of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Congo.

During the last outbreak of the Ebola virus in Africa four years ago, panic spread faster and farther than the disease itself. Public fears even hindered efforts to end the epidemic, which claimed 11,000-plus lives. With a new outbreak this month in Congo, health officials are now applying a key lesson: Guard against mass hysteria.

This time, the World Health Organization and other groups are reacting with greater speed to the crisis but also with greater caution in how they influence public thinking. For one, they are showing more confidence in battling the virus. “[W]e now have better tools than ever before to combat Ebola,” tweeted WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Thursday.

Yet just as important is avoiding certain actions that play to people’s fears. These include moving entire families to isolation centers, placing whole villages in quarantine with the use of soldiers, or banning certain social practices that may spread the disease (thus forcing people to simply hide such practices).

Another key lesson: Prepare crisis-response teams well enough in advance so they don’t flee in panic and worsen the worries of local people.

In general, health officials have learned how to be more sensitive in working with virus-hit communities, helping them better understand what can be done. The 2014-16 outbreaks in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea also showed the need to deal with the social stigma encountered by those who survived the disease. Mental health services were overrun in those countries during the outbreak.

Many survivors need help in dealing with isolation from family, friends, and employers. Such relief can reduce a part of the anxiety over the virus. Or as Florence Nightingale, famed nurse of the 19th century, advised: “How very little can be done under the spirit of fear.”

One study of the 2014-16 crisis concluded that fear and chaos went “largely unchecked by high level political leadership.” By early accounts, the latest crisis in Congo may not have a similar problem.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to The new calm in combatting Ebola
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today