Ebola and the Media Macabre

Joel Whitmore
Contributing Writer

A few short months ago the United States was mired in an apocalyptic media frenzy over Ebola, a disease that has the West African states of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in national emergencies. Since the onset of the outbreak, nearly 11,000 people have died. While the disease was, and remains, serious, American news media stirred up unparalleled worry through coercive and misleading coverage. The dire reality of the outbreak was cast aside for media scare tactics. This media blitz fizzled out, and the current situation of the outbreak has all been forgotten by our national 10-second attention span.

The state of the outbreak has accelerated again in Guinea and Sierra Leone, but no new cases have been identified in Liberia for nearly three weeks. In fact, with one case of Ebola being treated in a Maryland hospital–the United States has more Ebola than Liberia. The conditions in each country, while showing some signs of containment, will worsen if funding does not continue. Western media dictate what people talk about worldwide, and despite the patriarchal and misleading coverage by Fox and CNN, their attention was lending itself to donations. As the media frenzy fades, public interest over the outbreak has diminished and mass stress has focused on new topics. Rinse and repeat.

Aside from the human dangers of the disease, the outbreak has devastated the prospects of development in the three states most prominently hit. Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are resource rich states that have been plagued by rough histories of colonization, exploitation and corrupt governments. Despite rich mineral access and coastal ports, the states rank toward the bottom of most economic global indicators. Local businesses have been forced to shut down, foreign investors have stripped mines and fled with national wealth, schools have been closed for almost a year and without significant assistance from the global community the struggling states face a daunting upward climb even once Ebola is eradicated.

It is these intricacies of development that news media overlook, but most significantly paint an image of a humanitarian crisis. American media pumps you full of horrifying images of blood curdling diseases, while capitalizing heavily on increased viewership. As hype dwindles, the true story is never told and your average American citizen assumes Ebola has been eliminated. The image of “West Africa” as a conglomerated place riddled with Ebola has become the common perception of the situation, but shows an imperfect and demeaning picture. The reality of the situation is worrisome, but oversaturation by media has dwindled genuine care toward the humanity of the region.

Where we stand today there is significant work to be done. (And I say “we” because this is a human rights issue and should be handled with global resources rather than left to the impoverished states to handle.) During the peak of media coverage, funding was coming from all directions. One issue has been the misappropriation of funds; $6 million of $19 million dollars allocated to fight Ebola in Sierra Leone are inexplicably missing. Between missing money and the decreased attention toward the outbreak, resources to fight the resurgence of the disease in Guinea are dangerously limited. Money, health resources and personnel training are desperately needed.

As students in Oneonta, it is hard to see where we fit into the picture. Two weeks ago Simon Tsike-Sossah, an inspiring man from Ghana who currently works out of The Netherlands, came to campus to discuss his work in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Tsike-Sossah runs the African Community Internship Placement Programme (ACIPP), which functions as a model for sustainable service in the field of youth development in West Africa. ACIPP trains people in these states to be community leaders and help fight disease outbreaks and organize community response to development issues. Through ACIPP, American students can participate in for-credit internships, secure jobs in the development field or join their corps of writers working to spread the word about the ongoing challenges of the Ebola outbreak.

Travel to the region is still discouraged, but from campus we have a role to play. If you are conscious of global issues and feel drawn to assist in helping the states of Western Africa rebuild, there is work you can do. Working in development requires compassion, humanity and a willingness to let your understanding of an issue crumble in order to rebuild it with the truth. I challenge each member of this campus to question the authority of media when a topic such as Ebola begins to flood the airwaves. Dissect the bias presented by American news and attempt to reach beneath the surface to see the real issues.

ACIPP works with direct service to the region and is a small and reputable organization. If you feel drawn to donate your time or money to the cause, please consider working and donating with ACIPP.

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