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Published On: Fri, Dec 12th, 2014

Ebola, its hysterics and the media

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Ebola FG, LagosBy Mahmud Malami-Sadiq

As with all previous outbreaks, the current Ebola pandemic has generated a wave of fear, hopelessness and frustration among many of the world’s population, especially in the disease-stricken locations-a phenomenon broader in scale and bigger in magnitude than the actual disease itself. This global fear has caused a lot of disruptions and gaps in international relations, with many scheduled international conferences suspended, invitations to meetings declined, and airline flight routes blocked by many Ebola-free countries in an attempt to close their boarders and cancel all possible flights to and from the disease-ravaged countries; even Saudi Arabia has allegedly threatened to prevent intending pilgrims from the affected countries from entering the holy land for this year’s pilgrimage. The fact is that so many things have changed in international relation since the start of the current Ebola outbreak-a grotesque illustration of how a single disease can shape events and their courses at the international level.

Here at home, the panic resulted from the Ebola horror has seemed to envelop everybody, making the whole nation doubtful of its own destiny in the face of Ebola catastrophe. This ugly trend is more evident in villages where correct information on the disease is scant, a development which has created a lot of myths and stigma around the disease; some people have gone to the extent of even avoiding shaking hands with one another, out of fear of contracting the disease.

Then, the pertinent questions: why this panic? Does Ebola reasonably warrant this quantum of fear? Who are behind this Ebola puzzle? The fact that Ebola is as fatal as that almost 9 out of 10 people who contract the disease die of it; that nobody can say, with any appreciable degree of certainty, the natural reservoir of the virus in the wild (bats, insects, guinea pigs and some species of plants have all been suspected of being the natural hosts of the virus); that the virus is very difficult to diagnose even in standard laboratories; that neither safe vaccine for preventing the diseases nor effective drug for its treatment has so far been discovered can reasonably explain, to some extent, the reason for this global panic-to be scared of this disease is being sensible and responsible human being. Nevertheless, that fear also need to be solaced by the fact that the disease, notwithstanding its other ugly features, is hard to contract and relatively easier to contain.

Because the only undisputable way of transmitting the disease is through contact with the blood and other bodily fluids of an infected person or through contact with contaminated objects, like needles. And this scenario can be effectively avoided using “barrier nursing” techniques such as isolating of a patient, wearing of protective clothing when contact with a patient, and sterilization (disinfection) of contaminated objects before reuse- or completely avoiding reuse. In another sense, when ever the seemingly unavoidable host animal-to-man transmission occurs, the person-to-person chain can be severed using the above techniques. So the bottom-line is to identify the disease when ever it occurs-as early as possible-and then block the transmission chain.

But consider some of the top killer diseases as HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, and Tuberculosis, each of which is more infectious, more contagious, and has so far killed far more people than the Ebola Viral Disease (despite its 90%mortality rate).Then, also, imagine what will happen to the world if Ebola can be transmitted airborne like Influenza (also viral disease) and TB, or it is as chronic as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis. Therefore, we should take solace in the fact that Ebola is neither similar to Influenza and TB nor identical to AIDS and Hepatitis in that sense.

Moreover, we can argue that the current tide of fear, which has been mischievously sustained due to the media attention Ebola has been able to garner, is unwarranted. And this media-led exaggeration of Ebola has always accompanied all outbreaks since 1994 when Richard Preston published the best-seller The Hot Zone, which describes the Ebola epidemic among monkeys in Virginia, USA and warns the world of a future deadly epidemic. Subsequently, The Hot Zone inspired the 1995 movie Outbreak featuring Dustin Hoffman on Ebola, another TV movie, Virus, illustrating Ebola virus itself, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Coming Plaque, by Laurie Garret which predicts an apocalyptic outbreak of Ebola in the near future. All these ‘works’ have been able to spark a lot of media attention on the disease; sometimes such aggressive media tit bits on Ebola are genuine, but often are either fictional or over sensationalized.

Although Ebola again has reared its ugly head in our world, we do not need to be unreasonably scared or assume unnecessary fatalistic posturing; instead, we should boldly accept the daunting realities of the disease, while being oblivious of any obnoxious media sensationalism, and then do the ‘right’ thing at both individual and governmental levels.

Mahmud Malami-Sadiq via


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