Health officials have said that about 75 per cent of people contracting Ebola are women because they are often the primary care-givers, nurses and traders.
The disease, which has claimed the lives of at least 1,229 people across Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, is disproportionally infecting women as the outbreak spreads across West Africa.
Liberia’s Minister for Gender and Development, Julia Duncan-Cassell, said that health teams at task force meeting in Liberia found three-quarters of those who were infected or died from Ebola were female.
She told the Washington Post: “Women are the caregivers — if a kid is sick, they say, ‘Go to your mom.’
“The cross-border trade women go to Guinea and Sierra Leone for the weekly markets, [and] they are also the caregivers. Most of the time when there is a death in the family, it’s the woman who prepares the funeral, usually an aunt or older female relative.”
The Ministry of Health in Liberia also said about 75 per cent of the Ebola deaths it has counted so far have been women, Buzz Feed reports.
A spokesperson for Community Response Group and a leader of the Social Mobilization Committee on Ebola, Suafiatu Tunis, said that female family members are also typically expected to nurse and tend to sick family members, increasing their risk of contracting the disease even further.
Women in West Africa are also the traditional birth attendants, nurses and the cleaners and laundry workers in hospitals. Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids, making hospital transmission the likely method by which it would be passed on to large numbers of people.
A WHO spokeswoman in Monrovia, Liberia, Maricel Seeger, said that reaching women and educating them on the disease was crucial to tackling the virus’ spread, as they play a major role as conduits of information in their communities”.
“By reaching the women, they are reaching those who can best protect their families, and their own health,” she said.
Liberia has the highest death toll and its number of cases is rising the fastest. In response, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has ordered West Point sealed off and imposed a night-time curfew.
At least 50,000 people live on the half-mile-long point, which is one of the poorest and most densely populated neighbourhoods of the capital.