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Civilian perception of the role of the military in Nigeria’s 2014 Ebola outbreak and health-related responses in the North East region


Introduction Civilian–military relations play an important yet under-researched role in low-income and middle-income country epidemic response. One crucial component of civilian–military relations is defining the role of the military. This paper evaluates the role of Nigerian military during the 2014–2016 West African Ebola epidemic.

Methods Focus groups and key informant interviews were conducted throughout three states in North East region of Nigeria: Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. Participants were identified through mapping of stakeholder involvement in Nigerian epidemic response. English-translated transcripts of each key informant interview and focus group discussion were then coded and key themes were elucidated and analysed.

Results Major themes elucidated include developing inclusive coordination plans between civilian and military entities, facilitating human rights reporting mechanisms and distributing military resources more equitably across geographical catchment areas. The Nigerian Military served numerous functions: 37% (22/59) of respondents indicated ‘security/peace’ as the military’s primary function, while 42% (25/59) cited health services. Variations across geographic settings were also noted: 35% (7/20) of participants in Borno stated the military primarily provided transportation, while 73% (11/15) in Adamawa and 29% (7/24) in Yobe listed health services.

Conclusions Robust civilian–military relations require an appropriately defined role of the military and clear civilian–military communication. Important considerations to contextualise civilian–military relations include military cultural–linguistic understanding, human rights promotion, and community-based needs assessments; such foci can facilitate the military’s understanding of community norms and civilian cooperation with military aims. In turn, more robust civilian–military relations can promote overall epidemic response and reduce the global burden of disease.

  • infectious diseases
  • international health services
  • protocols & guidelines
  • health & safety
  • health policy
  • public health

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

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