Bad news sells newspapers. Don’t buy into the Ebola hype
Ebola kills 90 percent of its victims. No wait, 60 percent. Okay, maybe 50. It’s highly contagious. No wait, it doesn’t spread very effectively through humans. It can be killed with a run-of-the-mill disinfectant. Also, you can protect yourself by eating kola nuts. Lots of them.
Misinformation about Ebola is rampant, particularly in areas most affected by the disease. As a casual observer in a Westernized country, worrying about personal safety constitutes very poor use of time and energy. And yet this lack of good information is wreaking havoc on populations affected by the virus. Misinformation is a major issue, and has probably caused the disease to spread further than it may have were better information available.
For example, Pacific Prime reported last month that some villages were being told Ebola was spread by foreign health care workers. (They are seriously affected, but that’s more due to proximity and unavailability of vital resources). Traditional burials might have been disallowed had locals known that Ebola can spread even through the dead.
Bloomberg reported this month that the city of Lagos appointed a “rumour manager” and is asking local pastors to help dispel rumours about the virus, which is being used to sell everything from miracle cures to kola nuts.
Lori Thicke, co-founder of Translators Without Borders called Ebola “a disease of ignorance” .
As of 29 Aug 2014, the World Health Organization reported 3052 cases of Ebola in West Africa, with 1,546 deaths, for an overall fatality rate of 51 percent. New agencies, including CNN, published false reports that Ebola kills 90 percent of affected cases. Even the EbolaFacts website, established to help quell rumours and distribute real facts to endangered populations, reported that “Ebola is a very scary disease. It kills most of the time and has no cure.”
While world governments are beginning to wake up to the threat and take action by sending much needed resources to affected areas, news outlets are having a big old-fashioned media jamboree with “the Ebola crisis.”
Here are five reasons why, unless you plan to take some action to help stop the spread of the disease, you’d better find something more productive to worry about than the threat of Ebola to your person.
1. The Western world has the resources necessary to contain the virus
Ebola is spreading in the world’s poorest countries, where health care facilities of the standard to which we are accustomed in the West do not exist. More resources are needed: containment units, field hospitals, standard disinfectants, education, etc. Perhaps most significantly there’s a need for people -- the WHO estimated that it takes 250 health care workers to treat 80 patients.
Recently much attention was given to two Americans who were flown to New York for treatments. This caused a lot of unnecessary hype, not to mention ignorant tweets about Ebola by Donald Trump, though it did sell a lot of newspapers despite the fact that no real threat existed -- patients arrived in a plane equipped with an isolation pod and were treated at Emory Hospital in a containment ward with specialized vents.
These extra precautions were likely put in place due to the media attention their cases have received, since officials report that patients could easily have been treated in a normal hospital.
2. The Ebola virus is well-understood and we know how to contain it
Despite conflicting reports about Ebola transmission in the mass media, much is understood about the virus. Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN that the virus can be easily deactivated with typical hospital disinfectants.
"The plain truth is that we can stop Ebola," Friedan told ABC News. "We know how to control it." In its most recent report, the WHO has narrowed down six primary interventions necessary for its control, including treatment centres, contact tracing and safe burial. Airports are on alert and medical staff are trained to handle this type of situation. Doctors know what to do.
3. Bad news sells newspapers
Regional news outlets are jumping on the Ebola bandwagon, and publishing headlines for shock value that contain very little in the way of actual fact. Any patient with flu-like symptoms could “potentially” be an Ebola case, which means even the slightest hint from a nurse or doctor can prompt the headline “Ebola Arrives in [Insert Town or City].”
4. Ebola isn’t as contagious as it is in the movies
It cannot be spread with a cough or a sneeze like the common cold, and has nowhere near the spreading power of tuberculosis, HIV or malaria. Though EbolaFacts reports the disease is “highly contagious,” most health professional would not likely agree.
Remember, health infrastructure is extremely limited in the parts of West Africa most affected. The level of contagiousness has more to do with proper information, safe burial, contact monitoring and availability of treatment centres than it does with the actual nature of the virus. Most of the Western world does not face these problems.
5. You live in a wealthy county
Problems with case prevention and control are particularly rampant in Sierra Leone, where capacity to accommodate patients is seriously limited, according to the WHO. Some health professionals say that the spread is due to people and hospitals not taking proper precautions to stop the spread of the diseases, but this is merely symptomatic of a greater issue: not enough money, people and resources.
This isn’t to say that Ebola does not pose a very real threat for those living and travelling in West Africa. Travellers would do well to avoid this part of the world for a time and - it should go without saying - have a good insurance plan in place no matter what the destination.
It appears that what’s needed is a global mobilization by world powers to provide treatment in affected areas. We have the resources. We have the knowledge. Maybe it’s time to start using them.
If you are traveling to Africa and have reason to be concerned about the ebola virus, we highly recommend you speak to your insurer before traveling. If you are not insurerd yet, feel free to get in touch to find out more about your insurance options and how we can help you.
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