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Robert Klitzman Explores the Connection Between Culture, Rituals, and Disease Transmission

Robert Klitzman, director of the M.S. in Bioethics program at Columbia University, writes for The Huffington Post about the need to educate at-risk populations about how to minimize the spread of Ebola.

He writes, "Last week, the WHO presented a plan for monitoring and trying to contain and stop the Ebola epidemic. The 27-page report mentions the word education a handful of times, but only in passing, and includes the term 'risk education' once."

He says, "Ebola is spreading rapidly in part because of traditional burial rituals in which mourners bathe and prepare the deceased's body. Unfortunately, these acts are transmitting the virus."

Klitzman reflects on his time in Papua New Guinea treating a disease called kuru, which is "caused by a prion closely related to that which causes 'mad cow' disease." Then, too, widespread transmission of the illness had to do with traditional rituals that were difficult to disentangle from the culture of the community.

Klitzman says of Ebola, "Education and interventions to stop the epidemic will directly challenge long standing practices and beliefs, and thus need to be altered, but will be difficult to change. To think otherwise is naïve."