Faced with the looming specter of the COVID – 19 pandemic, it is of utmost importance that we look back and analyze the painful lessons from the various Ebola outbreaks over the years. Women were disproportionately affected by the outbreaks and if we don’t incorporate those lessons for the current disaster, women will again end up bearing the brunt of the consequences. These lessons are more salient for resource strapped African nations, where preexisting health inequity and rampant patriarchal exclusion of women severely limits their ability to access information and health.

 

Many diseases affect men and women differently along biological differences – for example, even though breast cancer affects both sexes, women are 100 times more at risk than men. When it comes to Ebola however, the evidence so far does not show a difference in disease pattern between men and women based on biology.1 Rather, the differences in experience have been based on the social dimensions of gender. Women were more at risk of contracting Ebola and experiencing its negative externalities due to a number of factors.

 

The First factor is women’s role in society. Women generally have the role of caretakers in many societies. This places them in the unique position of being exposed to epidemic-style diseases as they take on caring for the sick and dying – this has been the experience during the HIV epidemic where women were the chief purveyors of care with higher exposure rates.2 This was also true for the Ebola epidemics – for instance, women formed the majority of contacts, fatalities, and patients during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Nigeria.3 This was also reflected in the WHO’s Ebola report during the 2015 outbreaks in Liberia and Sierra Leone where about four hundred more women had confirmed cases as compared to men.4 During the DRC’s outbreak in 2003, men actively avoided infection by making sure that it was women who took care of patients they suspected were infected.5 Further, higher exposure also resulted from more women being involved in health care provision, often with poor protective gear and infection protective practices3.

 

Another point worth considering is the impact burden of care can have on these women. Higher levels of stress caused by increased responsibility and interacting with dying family and patients can lead to unfavorable outcomes in mental health.2 As health systems crumble, women take on the role of caring for the multitudes of sick without proper training and end up being exploited – may female survivors have shared that they were blamed by their communities for the deaths of the people under their care.6 This led to further stigma and loss of livelihood, evictions and rejection by families.

 

The second factor is gender-based violence (GBV). Ebola worsened underlying gender inequities through the rise of gender motivated violence, as has been the experience with other disasters leading to heightened vulnerabilities for women.7 GBV rates skyrocket in the aftermath of large-scale humanitarian emergencies such as Ebola. A study in Sierra Leone following the outbreak found a clear increase in the number of transactional sexual interactions – reflecting the increased vulnerability experienced by women.8 Another report demonstrated that during the Sierra Leone crisis, unplanned teenage pregnancies went up by 65%.9

 

The third and final factor is access to care and information. The Ebola outbreak resulted in the decimation of the poorly run health systems – Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea experienced high burden of poor maternal health outcomes as many pregnant women were either turned away because of overwhelmed providers or were too afraid to access health centers due to fear of contracting infection.2 One study showed the number of pregnant women attending health facilities declined by 30% in Sierra Leone following the initial stages of the outbreak.10 During the same period, the number of births attended by professionals in Liberia declined from 58% to 30%. Several stories were recounted where women were forced to deliver outside hospitals or ambulances as they were turned away by staff afraid of contracting Ebola.11 There are differing numbers of case fatality rates for mothers – mostly hovering around 40%.12

 

Women’s access was also severely limited when it came to information. A study conducted in Uganda assessing the knowledge of men and women about Ebola found that more women were unaware of the actual causes and modes of transmission.14 Young girls were even less informed about Ebola as they stayed home and were not able to attend community level education.9

 

However, before posting solutions, it is worth addressing a possible argument against the link between gender and Ebola. Several papers have shown that despite having a higher number of cases, women were significantly less likely to die of Ebola infection compared to men.15 How can we say that women are being impacted disproportionately if in fact less of them are dying? Well this argument fails in a number of ways. First, morbidity is a major measure of assessing disease impact. As has been stated, women were infected in higher numbers than men, translating to greater levels of illness and suffering as a group. For example, Liberia reported that 65 percent of those infected were women.2 Second, it fails to frame the concurrent impact of GBV, increased maternal mortality, and overall social disruption that has been associated with Ebola. Mortality is not the only metric for assessing disease footprint.

 

So, what actions need to be taken to address the three major aforementioned factors and their interplay with Ebola? The most important ones are gender mainstreaming and gender role reevaluation.

 

Gender mainstreaming is a concept first translated into a global agenda during the UN Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995.16 Put simply, it is the practice of institutionalizing gender equity by promoting gender conscious practices, policy, and processes within various spheres of life.17 This concept can be applied at various levels of policy.

 

Governments need to include units within their structures with the explicit role of providing gendered analysis of various policies. The lens needs to be applied during the inception of policies and not as an analysis of a policy output. This should also be reflected in any office that is responsible for the planning and implementation of disaster preparedness. Interventions should consider existing gender practices and possible ramifications women might face secondary to disasters or disaster-specific interventions. For example, during the 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak, travel and trade restrictions that were enacted in the Moro River region ended up disproportionately affecting women as they were responsible for most of the cross-border trade – a situation further compounded by the fact that they had to take care of the slew of orphans following the outbreak.10

 

Education strategy and materials about diseases should strive to be gender conscious. This means campaigns should engage community leaders and elders and ensure women participate during the process. Moreover, the content should also be framed in a way that puts the context of the community into consideration. Several focus groups of women survivors found that they were aware of the risks of handling the risks but were unable to do anything about it because caring was their responsibility.6 The message should be geared towards providing information about safety during care.

 

Furthermore, adequate protective gear and standard infection prevention practices need to be guaranteed during outbreaks – with emphasis on gender dimensions. As was discussed above, women tend to be on the frontlines at health care facilities as well. However, studies in Nigeria have shown that they were the ones who were much less likely to get proper protective gear when compared to men.3 This requires the governments to ensure that proper gear is present and makes it to the entire crew and not just men.

 

Concurrently, societies also need to re-evaluate the often-times rigid gender roles imposed on women. The burden of caring for the sick and ailing should be shared amongst the genders. One possible way to achieve this is to facilitate the assumption of caregiving roles by boys and men. One interesting argument is to have men take on 50 percent of the world’s unpaid work off of the hands of women.18 Although it might appear radical, similar initiatives need to be undertaken to distribute the burden of care across the community. Governments need to include policies that will prod and engage communities to question and redefine these established roles. Community leaders, elders, and religious institutions need to work in tandem with governments, civil societies, and rights activists in questioning the established norms and their impact on the health of women. These partnerships will have a better chance of producing organic solutions.

 

Work is also required to enhance the shared ownership of illness and care within communities. The experience of men avoiding getting infected by ensuring that women took care of suspected cases is a clear example of absence of ownership. Women are not non-members of the community and dumping cases on them to avoid being infected is something that shows a deep level of gender inequity and othering. Community engagement and consultation is very important with this regard. Such experiences need to be exposed by civil societies and rights groups and pressure needs to be mounted on both communities and governments to provide legal protection against such actions.

 

In conclusion, the entrenched gender inequities prevalent in the countries with Ebola outbreaks have resulted in higher burden of infection and consequent morbidity amongst women. The inequities have to be seen as social injustices and proper steps need to be taken to address the existent consequences and concrete measures put in place in order to make sure actions taken in the future guarantee the full participation and protection of women. A pragmatic approach to achieve this would be the wide adoption of gender mainstreaming measures as preparations are made for possible future health disasters like Ebola and COVID – 19. As health is a human right, any factors that cause inequity need to be seen as violations and tackled vigorously.

 

Agazi Fitsum Gebreselassie, M.D., MGHD (Candidate)

agazifitsum@gmail.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/agazi-fitsum-gebreselassie-m-d-11021a185/










Read also

African Union member states accelerates online vaccine pre-orders

The Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team [AVATT], set up by the African Union to acquire addition...





Read also

Let’s Talk Meat: Where Do You Go to Fix Your Raw Meat Cravings?

People in Addis Ababa are serious about their meat and they are usually loyal to one or two butch...





Read also

Global action is the only way to get ahead of COVID-19

  By Mark Suzman, CEO, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation...





Read also

The Year Global Health went Local: Gates Foundation Annual Letter

“COVID-19 has cost lives, sickened millions, and thrust the global economy into a devastati...





Read also

ROCKSTONE enters its first real-estate market in Ethiopia with one billion birr investment

ROCKSTONE Ethiopia has committed One Billion Birr to building KEFITA, a G+20 exclusive apartment ...





Read also

Djibouti: Just another country blinded by Chinese money?

Djibouti’s future diversification of its economy through foreign investment continues to be...





Read also

Small-scale Traders at the Heart of Efforts to Accelerate Trade and Investment

Industry experts meeting this week for a virtual discussion focused on resetting, retooling and r...





Read also

Why You Should Eat Fasting Food Everyday

A vegan or plant-based diet excludes all animal products, including meat, dairy, and eggs. When p...





Read also

Ginger Everything, Thank Us Later

Most of us put ginger in our tea and it is also one of the main ingredients in making Berbere (a ...





Read also

UNIDO ITPO OFF-Grid Expo, Conference Digital with a Focus on Energy Poverty

OFF-GRID Expo + Conference 2020 hosts its first digital edition in partnership with ...





Read also

Governance Progress Slow in Africa, 2020 IIAG Shows

Ethiopia is ranked at 31st out of 54 countries on the 2020 Ibrahim Index of African Governance th...





Read also

25 young African Agripreneurs Advance to ‘boot camp’ in AfDB’s Competition

Twenty-five young African agripreneurs have advanced to the “boot camp” final round o...





Read also

Unmatched Investment Returns in Africa Despite the Challenges, says AIF

Africa Investment Forum (AIF) Senior Director Chinelo Anohu last week joined business leaders in ...





Read also

Prime Bank launches SimbaPay - International Money Transfer

Prime Bank, a private bank in Kenya, has partnered with London-based FinTech SimbaPay, to launch ...





Read also

Key Health Services in Africa Heavily Affected due to COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to key health services in Africa, raising worries th...





Read also

African Development Bank Supports the Rwanda Coding Academy

The African Development Bank has signed a grant agreement with the Ministry of ICT and Innovation...





Read also

Turmeric It! for These 10 Reasons

Eat it in your food, drink it in your tea or put it on your face; this versatile spice is...





Read also

Gulf Based Brand MASER increasing ties to Africa through Innovation

Having recently received capital injection from a British private equity firm, Prateek Suri, foun...





Read also

Admassu Tadesse, TDB President Join Keynote Lineup at Africa Fintech Summit 2020

A three-day virtual event held this November 9, 10, and 12, Africa Fintech Summit 2020 will open ...





Read also

14th Edition of Addis International Film Festival

Initiative Africa is back with the 14th edition of Addis International Film Festival (AIFF) that ...





Read also

COVID-19 Driving Innovation in Health

The COVID-19 pandemic has galvanized the development of more than 120 health technology innovatio...





Read also

African payments for African development

The statistics that hover uncertainty around Africa are not ones that should make the continent p...





Read also

The story and drive behind the creation of Dimbit

The animation industry has developed rapidly as a result of new technology and marke...





Read also

Jack Dorsey to Keynote at Africa Fintech Summit 2020

Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO of Square, Inc Jack Dorsey is announced as the closing keynote for t...





Read also

New platform brings Free, Premium eLearning to Africa’s Jobseekers

atingi.org, a free-to-use eLearning platform...





Read also

HYATT Regency to open in Cape Town coming December

Hyatt Hotels Corporation announced that a Hyatt affiliate has entered into a management agreement...





Read also

Director of Africa CDC becomes winner of the 2020 Global Goalkeeper Award

Dr. John N. Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa...





Read also

Annual Goalkeepers Report shows COVID-19 has stalled 20 years of progress towards SDGs

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched its fourth annual ...





Read also

African Development Bank ranks 4th on global index of transparency

Publish What You Fund has ranked the African Development Bank fourth out of 47 global development...





Read also

Dangote cement sustains 54,000 jobs in 4 African countries

President of Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote has said that despite the challenging economic sit...





Read also

Sudan embraces digital payments to build a more inclusive economy

As part of its vision to transform its economy, the Republic of Sudan announced a new commitment ...





Read also

Festering Sickness

What is more tangible than the right to health? Health is immediate and demanding. Sickness disto...





Read also

A good Tian

Open up Google (or if you’re a paranoid psychopath like me, DuckDuckGo) and search for Tian...





Read also

PepsiCo partners with The Mekedonia Humanitarian Association

PepsiCo partners with The Mekedonia Humanitarian Association to distribute more than ...





Read also

Africa Business Heroes 2020

The ANPI is the Jack Ma Foundation’s flagship philanthropic entrepreneur program in...





Read also

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledges $1.6 billion to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance

SEATTLE (June 4, 2020) — The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced a five-yea...





Read also

Gemcorp, once again found reliable by the Public Procurement and Property Disposal service (PPPDS)

Addis Ababa – May 20, 2020 – UK based Gemcorp announced today that it has won yet ano...





Read also

Splice Responsibly

The act of god(s) is the act of creation. Countless religions have myths recounting the genesis o...





Read also

Warning: Oil producing African countries need to diversify economy

If there is one thing that the current COVID-19 and oil prices crises have demonstrated, it is th...





Read also

Ireland becomes a shareholder in the African Development Bank Group

The Republic of Ireland has become the African Development Bank Group’s 81st shareholder, f...





Read also

Tariku Shiferaw’s “One of These Black Boys” to be showcased in Frieze New York

Addis Fine Art announced its participation in Frieze New York 2020 for the first time, presenting...





Read also

Access Mental Health: As Easy as Tapping on Your Phone

Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we thi...





Read also

Facebook expanding its COVID-19 Information Center to more countries

Facebook is expanding its Coronavirus Information Center to 24 more countries in Africa as part o...





Read also

Gates Foundation Stepping up for Global COVID-19 Response

It is to be recalled that Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committed more than USD 250 million t...





Read also

Total Ethiopia contributes 17 Million ETB to fight against COVID-19

Since the outbreak of the pandemic COVID-19 Total Ethiopia management is joining hands with is st...





Read also

Gender and Ebola: Lessons for COVID-19

Faced with the looming specter of the COVID – 19 pandemic, it is of utmost importance that ...





Read also

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announces additional funding of USD 150 million to help fight COVID-19

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced an additional funding of USD 150 million to the g...





Read also

Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative application officially launched; prize money upped by 500k

Applications for the Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI), spearheaded by the Jack Ma Founda...





Read also

World leaders call on G20 to act immediately in response to COVID-19

165 past and present leaders call on the G20 to approve now USD 8bn emergency global healt...





Read also

Medical Supplies for Africa from Jack Ma Foundation Arrived in Addis Ababa

  Cargo flight containing over 6 million medical items including face masks, test ...





Read also

Hackathon Workshop on “A Digital Solution for Efficient Vote Counting and the Announcement of Election Results” in Ethiopia

Ethiopia Hacks! is conducted in partnership with the Google Developers Group (GDG- Addis) and the...





Read also

Bill and Melinda Gates Release 2020 Annual Letter

Addis Ababa – February 10, 2020 Today, Bill and Melinda Gates shared their 2020 A...





Read also

How to successfully seize Africa’s many opportunities

How to successfully seize Africa’s many opportunities By Jordan ...





Read also

Anti-Illicit Trade discussions held in Harar: Stopping Contraband requires the efforts of all stakeholders

On January 16, 2020, Customs Commission, in collaboration with Spotlight Communication and Marketing...





Read also

Alibaba Netpreneur Ethiopia

17th December 2019 Alibaba Netpreneur Training Program Opens Applications for Ethiopian...





Read also

Global Business Forum Africa 2019

Heads of state, ministers, policymakers, prominent business leaders, investors and entrepreneurs ...





Read also

The Ethiopia Electric Utility company (EEU) partners with Motorola Solutions to keep employees safe and improve service for customers.

The Ethiopia Electric Utility company (EEU) announced today the deployment of a new mission-critical...





Read also

Federal Police Commission deployed a Motorola Solutions secure communications system in the region of greater Addis Ababa.

Ethiopian Federal Police Commission announced the deployment of Addis Ababa’s regional proj...





Read also

The Economist Event’s Global Illicit Trade, Addis Ababa, June 25th.

Addis Ababa, June 19th, 2019 - The Economist Events brings Global Illicit Tr...





Read also

Asia Star of IMD World Competitiveness Ranking

Singapore has ranked as the world’s most competitive economy for the first time since 2010,...





Read also

Noble Cup to the Rescue

Menstrual Hygiene Day (MHD, MH Day in short) is an annual awarness day on May 28 to put the ...





Read also

Have you seen her?

Ayehuat phenomena is running wild across Addis Ababa. People got caught off guard when beautiful ...





Read also

When Tradition and Creativity Meet

On Wednesday, January 2, 2019, hundreds gathered at the National Theater to celebrate the one yea...





Read also

UN Entities Support Ethiopia’s Quest for Policy Coherence for the SDGs

The United Nations Department of Economics and Social Affairs (UNDESA), the United Nations Develo...





Read also

Removal of Trade Barriers Inside Africa Necessary, says DP World Group Chairman

The key to African economic emergence lies in removal of barriers, increased connectivity between...





Read also

Looking for fine dining and cozy lounging?

One of the most memorable times of my university years was hanging out at Romina Café and ...





Read also

Op-Ed: Ethiopian Artefacts Held Hostage in Britain

Britain, home to some of the most fascinating and multicultural museums in the world, fin...





Read also

Chelina in All Her Truth

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally here. Chelina released her...





Read also

New App to Help Ethiopian Women Identify Breast Cancer

According to research, breast cancer is the second most often occurring cancer among wome...





Read also

How Agricultural Investment Affects Africa's Economic Growth

The lack of commitment in agriculture investment is halting economic growth in Africa...





Read also

The Next Creative Capital

Ethiopia is the fastest growing economy in the world. It is undeniable that fashion is cu...

 

About Us

Zare Journal is a Pan-African Digital Media, based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, that aggregates news primarily on the African Continent.

Follow us on our socials to get updates and even more Zare content.

Contact Us

Zare Journal is a Pan-African Digital Media based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, that aggregates news primarily on the African Continent. Follow us on our socials to get updates and even more Zare content. For inquiries about placing advertisements and advertorials as well as publishing press releases, contact us at zarejournalmedia@gmail.com or call us direct/ WhatsApp at +251911400876