Ebola and the Irony of Bush Meat

The deadly Ebola epidemic of 2013-15 in West Africa was suspected of having started when a child in a remote village of Guinea came in contact with infected bats. After that initial episode NONE of the thousands of subsequent cases were traced to zoonotic causes, and yet the health authorities and the media put high level focus on the need to avoid bush meat – whether bats, monkeys, antelope or others – as a prime way to avoid the disease.

dos-and-donts-ebola-poster-final-07jul14_amhNew evidence is emerging that in fact it the evolving relationship between the virus and humans that allowed the disease to spread so widely. within the animal kingdon, humans, not bush meat where the major spreaders of Ebola.

Now two conflicting reports have surfaced about efforts to curb the consumption of bush meat.  First, a research team based in Rivers State, Nigeria, one of the places where Ebola reached, conducted a study that tracked the average number of carcases recorded in each market before and after the Ebola virus spread in Nigeria in June 2014. They reported that …

“The markets were surveyed twice a month between March and September 2014. Our survey found a statistically significant fall in trade for all the main traded types of animals. These included antelopes, monkeys, genets, mongooses, rodents, porcupines, birds, crocodiles, turtles and snakes. In particular, the trade in monkeys and fruit bats almost disappeared. Trade in turtles, crocodiles and other cold-blooded species was less affected.”

The group concluded that bush meat, though culturally valued, was “not as important as previously thought for rural people in west Africa.”

83ebb85e-bc1e-11e3-_562888c-getty-imagesThe second report, published a few days later, was posted in the Nigerian newspaper, Vanguard, and echos earlier stories.  ”

“Some bush meat sellers in some major markets in Lagos have said the business is booming again barely two years after the country was declared Ebola Virus Disease free. Some of the bush meat sellers told newsmen on Saturday that they were fully back to their business.”

Behavior change is not a simple process, especially when it comes to culturally rooted practices. Had better hygiene practices been possible by health workers and the public, it is possible that Ebola would have remained isolated. We should worry more about guaranteeing health workers the skills and equipment needed for infection prevention that the sales of bush meat.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *