Online Program

"Include us in the fight…” Learning from traditional healers in Sierra Leone: Recommendations and strategies for community engagement during the Ebola Emergency Response

Wednesday, November 4, 2015 : 8:43 a.m. - 8:56 a.m.

Sheba Dunston, EdD, MPH, CHES, CDC National Center for Health Statistics, Hyattsville, MD
Neetu Abad, PhD, Department of HIV/AIDS Prevention, Center for Disease Control, Atlanta, GA

Starting in February 2014, countries in West Africa, specifically Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, have experienced the largest Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in history. In May 2014, Sierra Leone’s first suspected case was diagnosed, and by May 2015 there were 8,620 laboratory confirmed cases and 3, 912 confirmed deaths.  Traditional healers, a vital health entity in Sierra Leone, have been linked to several Ebola cases. Although traditional healer work has been outlawed during the epidemic, some healers have been continuing their practices and therefore contributing to the spread of Ebola.


Focus groups were conducted in March 2015 among healers to assess their current knowledge of EVD, identify their perceptions of the Ebola response and explore their willingness to engage in Ebola prevention activities. Seven focus groups in the Port Loko District were conducted, with a total of 63 participants. Notes were analyzed using grounded theory methodology and thematic analysis. Codes were developed and common themes were summarized.


Data shows that healers have a wealth of knowledge about Ebola, including transmission and prevention.  Healers discussed fear and Ebola stigma in their communities, and reasons why some are still participating in unsafe behaviors that can lead to transmission.  The most significant theme that emerged was healers’ interest in assisting in response efforts.  Every group discussed the importance of including traditional healers in education and social mobilization efforts. At this point in the response, community engagement is critical in order to mobilize communities to fight to end Ebola.

Learning Areas:

Other professions or practice related to public health
Protection of the public in relation to communicable diseases including prevention or control
Public health administration or related administration

Learning Objectives:
Discuss and present data from focus groups with traditional healers in Sierra Leone to assess their current knowledge of Ebola Viral Disease (EVD). Identify perceptions of the Ebola response among traditional healers and explore their willingness to engage in Ebola prevention activities.

Keyword(s): International Health, Community-Based Partnership & Collaboration

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have several years of experience in public health and health disparities research. I received a Doctorate in Health Education from Columbia University and an MPH, with a concentration in Community Health and Prevention from Drexel University. I currently works with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a Social Scientist and Qualitative Researcher. In March 2015, I deployed to Sierra Leone as a part of the CDC’s Ebola response efforts.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.