The project team I am a member of conducts research on Ebola, and is working to develop a mathematical model to track the spread of Ebola in humans that will work in conjunction with data obtained from satellites and a questionnaire that we intend to distribute throughout Sierra Leone.
There are a variety of cultural issues that affect this project. One cultural issue that plays into this project is the rituals in Sierra Leone surrounding death and burials. The outbreak in West Africa from 2014-2016 was made far worse when individuals travelled hundreds of miles to attend the funeral of a man who died from Ebola. Those individuals then carried the virus back to their home towns and villages. Understanding different rituals in the culture of Sierra Leone will help us better understand how the disease spreads.
Another cultural issue affecting this project is the language barrier. While most people in Sierra Leone speak English, it is different from the English we speak here in the United States. People in Sierra Leone speak Krio, which is an English based language. In order to use our survey to collect data, it is critical that the individuals answering the survey are very clear on what the questions are asking. It is necessary that they are able to understand the survey for it to produce accurate data.
A third cultural issue affecting this project is the socio-economic state of Sierra Leone, which affects both the propagation of the Ebola Virus and the healthcare system in the country. In poorer areas, individuals have to go to bush meat markets, at which bats, who carry E.V., are purchased for food. In addition, we need to understand the healthcare system in the country in order to figure out exactly how to distribute our questionnaire, which is not very robust due to the socioeconomic status of the country as a whole.
When I was abroad, I experienced a few language barriers. I was in Berlin, and while most people speak English, not everybody does. Other than that, I honestly have not had a lot of experience with these social situations.
There are cultural practices that can be used to leverage community/market problems in Sierra Leone. For example, the healthcare system which is part of the culture includes community health workers or CHWs. These individuals can be leveraged in order to possibly distribute or administer these questionnaires. Also, due to the 2014-2016 outbreak individuals in Sierra Leone take Ebola very seriously. This could be used to our advantage as it may incentivize individuals to both administer and take our survey.
The African context presents different challenges to overcome than the American context. For example, the healthcare system in the United States is not public. Therefore, it may be more difficult to distribute a questionnaire around the country. Although, it would potentially be easier, it may also be more difficult as the United States healthcare system is more robust than the system in Sierra Leone. While there are community health workers, there is only 1 in most towns. In addition, the African context presents more difficulty due to the lack of infrastructure, so it would be difficult to both distribute and collect a paper questionnaire. Lastly, the lack of technology in the African context presents difficulty if the survey were to be an application, weather that be web or for a handheld device.
The African context also offers different resources than the American context. For example, the public healthcare system allows for a unified way to distribute our questionnaire. Another resource the African context provides is individuals with experience with the disease. There were thousands of Ebola mobilizers during the outbreak who were responsible for educating individuals on the spread of the disease. Lastly, the African context provides individuals with personal experience with individuals who have died from the disease. The African context is more relevant as the country has experienced this problem very severely.