Amid reports of a possible Ebola resurgence in Liberia, a new research paper by International Alert highlights the need to improve trust between the Liberian public and the government.

The research, titled Surviving Ebola: Public perceptions of governance and the outbreak response in Liberia, assesses perceptions of governance in response to Ebola in Liberia, and shows that most people deemed the response slow and ineffective.

Ashoka Mukpo, who authored the report on behalf of Alert, said:

"What the research has shown is that poor relations between state and citizens in Liberia contributed to the severity of last year's Ebola outbreak. Many people mistrust official institutions, and even feel threatened by them."

During the Ebola crisis, the inability of the government to win the widespread trust and support of its citizens contributed to the severity of the crisis by providing fertile ground for denial, scepticism and uncooperative behaviour by the public.

Mukpo, who himself contracted Ebola while reporting on the outbreak in Monrovia in 2014, added:

"In the early days, when Ebola could have been contained, many people refused to listen to the government's warnings. This raises concerns over how effective the peacebuilding and development process has been."

The report praises grassroots initiatives by Liberian communities, however, which it says played a vital role in preventing the worst case scenario. Communities took it upon themselves to disseminate messages and raise awareness about prevention, which helped curb the spread.

Michael Doe, Alert's Liberia Country Manager, said:

"The most effective measures taken during the Ebola crisis involved community members. Local communities must be included from the beginning of any future responses."

Twelve years after the end of its vicious civil war, Liberia is beginning to emerge from its post-conflict phase. The government has implemented a wide range of reforms, from human rights, to foreign investment and infrastructure.

However, many people complain that a pre-war legacy of elitism and corruption remains. The sense of mistrust exposed during Ebola shows there are festering wounds in Liberian society that have not yet been healed. This could pose a threat to lasting peace in the country.

The report urges that lessons from the outbreak are carefully examined and openly discussed by the government, civil society organisations and communities in the country. Attention must be paid to the social issues that enabled the outbreak to evade detection and delayed an effective response by public health officials.

The report’s findings are based on data collected through desk and field research in heavily affected parts of Liberia in May and June this year.

You can read the report here.

In Liberia, Alert helps local communities address the root causes of the conflict that divided the country for 15 years. Find out more at www.international-alert.org/liberia

Cover photo: Courtesy of Neil Brandvold/USAID under Creative Commons