Community trust of government and non-governmental organizations during the 2014-16 Ebola epidemic in Liberia

Ronan F. Arthur*, Lily M. Horng, Fatorma K. Bolay, Amos Tandanpolie, John R. Gilstad, Lucy K. Tantum, Stephen P. Luby

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The West African Ebola Virus Disease epidemic of 2014-16 cost more than 11,000 lives. Interventions targeting key behaviors to curb transmission, such as safe funeral practices and reporting and isolating the ill, were initially unsuccessful in a climate of fear, mistrust, and denial. Building trust was eventually recognized as essential to epidemic response and prioritized, and trust was seen to improve toward the end of the epidemic as incidence fell. However, little is understood about how and why trust changed during Ebola, what factors were most influential to community trust, and how different institutions might have been per-ceived under different levels of exposure to the outbreak. In this large-N household survey conducted in Liberia in 2018, we measured self-reported trust over time retrospectively in three different communities with different exposures to Ebola. We found trust was consis-tently higher for non-governmental organizations than for the government of Liberia across all time periods. Trust reportedly decreased significantly from the start to the peak of the epidemic in the study site of highest Ebola incidence. This finding, in combination with a negative association found between knowing someone infected and trust of both iNGOs and the government, indicates the experience of Ebola may have itself caused a decline of trust in the community. These results suggest that national governments should aim to establish trust when engaging communities to change behavior during epidemics. Further research on the relationship between trust and epidemics may serve to improve epidemic response efficacy and behavior uptake.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0010083
JournalPLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes


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