Background: Survivors of the 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola epidemic have been reported to suffer high levels of stigmatization after return to their communities. We sought to characterize the stigma encountered by a cohort of Ebola survivors in Liberia over time.
Methods: Ebola-related stigma was assessed from June 2015 to August 2017 in 299 adolescent and adult Liberian Ebola Survivor Cohort participants at three month intervals using adapted HIV stigma scales scored from 0 to 10 according to the proportion of answers indicating stigmatization.
Findings: The median time from Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) to study entry was 393 days (IQR 336-492). Participants (43% female) had a median age of 31 (IQR 25-40) years. Mean self-reported stigma levels were greater at baseline (6.28 ± 0.15 [IQR: 4.38-8.75]) compared to the first post-baseline visit (0.60 ± 0.10 [IQR: 0-0]; p<0.0001). During follow-up, stigma levels were stable. Baseline stigma significantly increased during enrollment and following clusters of Ebola re-emergence in Liberia. Survivors encountered primarily enacted and perceived external stigma rather than internalized stigma.
Conclusions: Ebola-related stigma was prevalent among Liberian survivors more than a year after EVD recovery. Self-reported stigma was greater in the period before cohort enrollment; however, some degree of stigmatization persisted years after EVD. Transient rises in stigma were observed following episodic Ebola re-emergence of EVD in Liberia. During future EVD outbreaks, enhanced public health interventions designed to prevent and mitigate Ebola-related stigma that is enacted and external should be implemented to support survivor recovery and community re-integration.