Ebola crisis in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo: student-led community engagement
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The second largest outbreak of Ebolavirus is currently ongoing in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and is characterized by lack of compliance with recommended control measures. Trusted local health agents, including medical students, may be valuable social mobilizers in this challenging context. We report a student-led educational campaign to increase community awareness and engagement in EVD control efforts, with evaluation of student and community satisfaction. The outreach was conducted in November 2018, involving 600 students and reaching 5–10,000 community members. Key messages included: ‘Ebola exists in Butembo’ and ‘Bring infected family members to the Ebola Treatment Unit.’ Medical students (n = 355) and community participants (n = 319) evaluated the campaign. Satisfaction was high: 320 (90%) students agreed that medical students could contribute to the EVD response effort, and 233 (73%) community members agreed that the students had helped them understand Ebola in the area. Lower satisfaction scores were associated with intention to hide infected family member from authorities (ρ = −0.25, p < 0.0001), denial of the existence of Ebola (ρ = −0.17, p = 0.0018), and mistrust of the response team (ρ = −0.11, p = 0.042). Both students (77%) and community members (71%) agreed that they were more motivated to combat Ebola as a result of the outreach. In conclusion, medical students can lead to satisfactory community engagement and educational activities during an EVD epidemic. As trusted local health agents, medical students may be valuable allies in building public trust and cooperation in this epidemic.