Ebola Virus and Communication Barriers in Healthcare - Patients at Gulu Municipal Hospital

Battling the Ebola Virus Outbreak and Language Barriers in Healthcare

Infected patients then return home, where the virus spreads and is inefficiently battled by governments with few resources, slow response times, poor communication networks and huge language barriers across borders.

Language Barriers in Healthcare Facilitate Ebola Virus Outbreak

Ebola Virus and Communication Barriers in Healthcare - Countries in West Africa With High Ebola Cases

Among the many factors that have impeded the control and prevention of Ebola virus infections in Africa, such as difficult conditions and poverty in afflicted nations, are communication barriers in healthcare. An inability to communicate effectively with those suffering have certainly played a role in the ability of healthcare workers to control the outbreak.

The most severely affected west African countries, i.e. Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, only recently established political stability, and after years of civil war, their healthcare systems are less than adequate.

This, along with communication barriers in healthcare, makes containment measures very difficult to implement. In order to contain the virus, patients must be isolated and any recent contacts tracked down. This is especially difficult to achieve however, as in many villages patients have trouble communicating with, and often fear, the volunteers and healthcare workers that are there to treat them.

Ebola has killed over 1,400 people in west Africa, including healthcare workers. Recent projections by the World Health Organization are that 1.2 million Ebola-related deaths will occur over the next six months, the period of time necessary to take control of the outbreak. Many lower estimates are based on full international funding, involvement and resources.

With so many challenges in the prevention of Ebola outbreaks and treating the sick, the issue of language only makes the situation more difficult. Communication barriers in healthcare are often found between patients and doctors – even when they are compatriots, let alone with international healthcare workers such as physicians volunteering for Doctors Without Borders. A lack of medical interpreters assisting volunteers has exacerbated the issue.

Even if there were enough bilingual individuals or access to professional interpreting services, language barriers could still pose an issue. The numerous spoken languages in the countries impacted by the Ebola virus outbreak best exemplify this problem.

Languages of Africa: Sierra Leone, Liberia & Guinea

FrenchOfficial language
FulaniCentral Guinea
MalinkeNorthern Ghana
SusuSouthwestern Ghana
KissiNear border of Liberia & Sierra Leone
GolaNear border of Liberia & Sierra Leone
LomaNear border of Liberia & Sierra Leone
EnglishOfficial language
VaiAlong the coast
BassaOn the coast
KruSouthern Liberia
GreboSoutheastern corner
KissiNear border of Guinea & Sierra Leone
GolaNear border of Guinea & Sierra Leone
LomaNear border of Guinea & Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone
EnglishOfficial language
TemneCentral & Northwestern districts
KissiNear border of Liberia & Guinea
GolaNear border of Liberia & Guinea


Sources: Ebola Outbreak CausesEbola Overview

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