Saturday, October 18, 2014

The next battle to kick out Ebola: Battling stigma and fear

While the death toll continues to rise from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the rest of the world is gripped by fear. This fear is a common human reaction to something like Ebola, a highly infectious disease that can spread rapidly with no known cure. Indeed, this is scary. But the stigma that is becoming associated with Ebola is even scarier.

We are hopeful that with all the attention that this outbreak is now receiving, it will soon be under control. Our biggest challenge, however, is how to get rid of the stigma surrounding the Ebola outbreak for the affected areas and the people from these areas.

I have seen several Facebook posts of people launching sensitisation campaigns informing the public and their Facebook friends, that by being a citizen of the affected country, they do not automatically carry the virus. Campaigns like "I am a Liberian, I'm not a virus", and "I am a Sierra Leonean, I'm not a virus" are becoming commonplace on social media.

I'm also attempted to do the same after my experience at an event that I atended two days ago. While standing, chatting and networking as commonplace in these events, I met a gentleman who upon realising that I am from Sierra Leone (read: I am a Sierra Leonean, but not necessarily traveling from Sierra Leone in recent times), he immediately found ways of skilfully avoiding any form of physical contact - no handshakes nothing. His reaction was shrouded in humour but you can sense his deep fear of "being touched by someone from an Ebola country". I made it easier for him by ensuring that I shook hands with everyone else in our small group but not with him, as I took my leave.

I was just thinking to myself that this is what lies ahead for some time to come, for people from these affected countries. I carry a Sierra Leonean passport. So, even if I do not live in Sierra Leone, neither am I travelling from that part of the world, I can still be a suspect at airports and other locations. Imagine what life will be like for people who are actually living in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia and trying to travel abroad in the near future.

This will be the new battle. The battle against ignorance. Education does not always translate to knowledge and intelligence.

I live you with this quote from Maya Angelou (her spirit lives on):

"My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors."

 - Maya Angelou

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