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The Struggle to #StopEbola in West Africa

A resident walks past a mural about the dangers of the Ebola Virus painted on a wall off Tubman Boulevard in Monrovia, Liberia. September 18, 2014. Photo by United Nations Development Programme on Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A resident walks past a mural about the dangers of the Ebola Virus painted on a wall off Tubman Boulevard in Monrovia, Liberia. September 18, 2014. Photo by United Nations Development Programme on Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The worst outbreak of the Ebola virus in history has so far claimed nearly 5,000 lives, with at least 10,000 reported cases mostly in West Africa. 

International health authorities alongside local medical personnel have been fighting to contain the spread of the deadly virus for several months with mixed results. When Ebola arrived in the bustling Nigerian metropolis Lagos in July, the country's officials acted quickly and successfully stamped out a potential epidemic.

But the outbreak has reached alarming levels in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where healthcare systems are ill-equipped to tackle the disease thanks to poor investment in health and education and years of civil war. Wealthier countries and World Health Organization have faced criticism for not lending support sooner to stop the epidemic before it got out of hand. 

Mali is currently fighting to contain the disease after confirmation of its first Ebola case. The Democratic Republic of Congo is also experiencing an outbreak of Ebola, but the virus strain there is unrelated to the one responsible for the West Africa epidemic. 

Facts vs. myths

There is no cure for Ebola, but potential vaccines are being studied. The virus is transmitted through direct contact with infected blood and other bodily fluids, and the bodies of recently deceased victims are highly contagious. Despite what some may think, mosquitoes do not carry Ebola. Health officials recommend frequent hand-washing, avoiding direct contact with an Ebola patient or with items that have come in contact with an Ebola patient, and seeking treatment immediately after symptoms arise as the best course of action to protect yourself.  

Misinformation abounds about Ebola. Survivors are often stigmatized despite being free of the disease, and people from the affected countries who do not have Ebola have encountered maltreatment because of their nationality. In Sierra Leone, Hannah Foullah is using Facebook to fight Ebola-related stigma with the campaign “Beauty for Country: I am 100% Sierra Leonean, Not a Virus.” 

Media outlets and governments have been accused of irresponsibly hyping panic over the disease. Some politicians, especially in the United States, have proposed implementing a blanket ban on air travel from West African countries, even though it would most likely worsen the situation

Several campaigns are underway in the affected countries and throughout Africa to educate the public about the facts of the virus. 

But some observers fear not enough is being done to stop the spread of Ebola. Keep with Global Voices for more coverage of the Ebola outbreak.

For further information on the virus in English, check out the websites for the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control. For information in French, visit the website for France's Ministry of Social Affairs, Health and Women's Rights.

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