The following was written by a friend of mine, Peter Andersen, an American currently living in Sierra Leone, who, for his internet-based coverage of Sierra Leone’s civil war, was made a Member of the Order of the Rokel. The Order of the Rokel, together with the Order of the Republic of Sierra Leone, is Sierra Leone’s highest civilian honor. The piece is reproduced here with his permission
The media in North America and Western Europe has finally picked up on the Ebola outbreak, but mostly with the idea that it could come “here.” The inflammatory headlines and statements in the first paragraphs are balanced at the bottom, should anyone read that far, by experts who point out that the chance of an outbreak in those regions is vanishingly small.
The comments left after such online articles range from the uninformed to the racist, with the German readers of Focus being especially bad. Yes, people here eat bush meat including monkey and even fruit bat. No, it is not a choice between eating bush meat and starvation. No, it is not only rich people who eat bush meat. No, it is not “superstition” which causes people to catch Ebola, unless by that you mean that people want a decent burial for their loved ones and are uncomfortable with the so-called “medical burial” where the body is zipped into a body bag and tossed without ceremony into an unmarked grave. And no, the cause of Ebola is not overpopulation.
This Ebola crisis is not “about” Europe or America, despite media there trying to find a local angle. They are trying too hard. Suddenly the Liberian official who died in Lagos, Patrick Sawyer, has become “an American of Liberian descent” in the Western press, but he remains a Liberian in the African press. In fact, he lived in Minnesota where his wife and three children reside. He is likely a dual citizen, but that does not make him “an American of Liberian descent” as the BBC would have it. That would imply that he was born in the US of Liberian parents. Ever if that were true (and it isn’t), he would still have qualified for a Liberian passport. I am waiting to hear from the BBC how a Liberian official was traveling on official government business from Monrovia to Calabar, Nigeria to an ECOWAS conference with an American passport.
At present I am not worried about an epidemic, or a pandemic, or a serious outbreak in Europe or America. We have not seen a single case caused by exposure in the West, nor have we seen a single infected person arrive from Africa. This is not even, mostly, about us here in Freetown (for now) although we now have had some cases and some people have been exposed. Most of the victims on this side of the border are in Kailahun and Kenema Districts, and it is with them and their families that our thoughts, our prayers, and our sympathies lie. And most especially with those medical staff who work up to 22 hours a day to save those who have been infected. Media, stop dividing them up into Americans and Africans in order to sell your story to a certain market. Even now we are mourning the loss of Dr. Khan and the three nurses who gave their lives saving others, while the Liberians are mourning their own losses. We only recognize one category and it’s called “hero.”
However Ebola initially started –and fruit bats and bush meat are only an educated guess at this point — after the initial infection, it travels person to person. With the proper isolation facilities (which the Western countries have) and effective communication of information (which they also have), Ebola should not be hard to control in the West.