Today I want to describe the impression of the Ebola emergency I had from the German media before coming to Sierra Leone and compare this impression with the real situation. I’m not claiming that I’m overseeing the whole media landscape in Germany, nor that I always interpreted the contents correctly. However, I’m consuming German media and that allows me to describe my authentic impression.
This impression was the following: Ebola is spreading in Sierra Leone more and more, because it is a very dangerous infectious disease and highly contagious. Despite enormous funding from abroad, the international community is unable to stop the epidemic. On top of that, the local population is a bit stupid and is not observing the behavioural rules necessary to curb the disease.
That reflects more or less what was being communicated from my point of view. The result was, that many of my friends and family considered my wish to get involved in the Ebola response as being risky and even reckless. My aunt wanted to tie me up in the cellar in order to prevent me from leaving, and a friend was insisting that I should not touch any objects in Sierra Leone, because the virus could contaminate anything. Some friends did not know before my departure in November, that Ebola can be transmitted only through body fluids and not through the air like, for example, the flue. After all this journalist work being published in newspapers, radio and TV I’m really wondering what went wrong. While reporting about a more or less unknown sickness, wouldn’t it be most important to try to explain the mode of infection first? Should media not try to communicate this first? Instead, fear was being created, discussions revolved around the question whether or not German citizens are in danger. From my perspective, the German media failed. And that is one of the reasons for this blog.
And just to let you know: To get infected with Ebola requires ignorance of basic hygiene practices and precautions. The government of Sierra Leone was not very strong before Ebola and the emergency state did not exactly improve their ability to perform. Public spending is marginal, especially in disaster prevention and awareness. Foreign funds are spend too much on treatment and research. Many people are illiterate, don’t have radios and are deeply rooted in their traditions. The dangerousness or difficult treatment are only one factor beyond other, more important ones.
This is a translation of my original article in German.