One of the task force set up by Grenada to look at varying aspects of the deadly Ebola virus will be focusing on changing behavioural patterns of the population in the event that the virus enters the country.
According to task force member, Dr Omowale Amuleru-Marshall, this is important as habits are very hard to change “and you don’t do it simply because you’re willed to do it”.
He told reporters at the weekly post-Cabinet press briefing held at the Ministerial that, “the area that I am more concerned about, that I have been trying to be more useful is what can we do, how can we behave as individuals, as communities, as a culture to reduce the likelihood that we would encounter problems with Ebola”.
Dr. Amuleru-Marshall went on: “…That is not to say that there are not other dimensions to this threat – there are but I am trying to mobilise a team of people who could assist the Ministry (of Health) to get to people’s doors, to get to people’s villages, to get people to feel, not panic but empowered so they understand how they might begin to change”.
The St. George’s University official felt that if one waited until there is a problem on hand to begin to make significant behavioural changes, this would be difficult to do because a lot of what is done is habitual.
“Some people call it muscle memory, a simple thing like shaking hands, if you yourself tried today to stop shaking hands or we have people who are huggers, to stop hugging, you would (fail) many times during the day before you can restrain yourself …”, he said.
He noted that extending one’s hand to another or reaching out to hug, these things are normal and natural parts of people’s behavioral repertoire.
According to Dr. Amuleru-Marshall, the task at hand is distinguishing science from fear so as to not create a state of panic in people.
“We want to be sure that our recommendations for behavioural practice, for behavioural rehearsal, our recommendations to communities, to villages, to families and to individuals and to ways (we) should begin to change what they have traditionally done is required not by hysteria but by good science,” he said.
He disclosed that the Minister of Health, Dr. Clarice Modeste-Curwen together with SGU officials brought together a range of people with different backgrounds to work on the preparedness aspect.
“I happen to be a part of that and I am doing what I can through the Grenada Public Health Association, through the Crime Disease Commission and I’m the Chairman of the National Crime Disease Commission. We had a meeting last week and they all agreed that for the moment we have to step back from chronic disease and become a national Ebola Commission because if we should have an epidemic run of Ebola in this country, we’re not going to have to worry about chronic disease, so all of my colleagues decided that we should be bringing all of our constituencies in the country,” he said.
Dr. Amuleru-Marshall stressed that it has been decided that the commission members will have to marshall whatever resources they have at their disposal to become soldiers in the struggle since it is going to require time and effort.
“It’s difficult to find the right line between hysteria and preparedness, when do you start to change in particular ways, how do you get people’s attention without be an alarmist. Nobody wants to contribute to alarm that is fear based and not science based but you have to be able to make the right call and that is the effort I’m involved in”, he said.
“…We have a small sub-committee organised, we’re trying to get fact based information that we can then translate that into not just pamphlets because knowledge while it is important is never enough. We have to be sure that we get information to our citizens, we also have to create some options for them to do some rehearsal, some practice,” he added.
Grenada has been taking a pro-active approach in the dissemination of Ebola information to prepare the nation for the disease that has killed in excess of 10, 000 persons mainly in West Africa.