Take Off Your Mask: Why This Ebola Panic Must End

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos by Ogechi Emechebe Ebola. It’s a disease many of us didn’t know an...

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos
by Ogechi Emechebe

Ebola. It’s a disease many of us didn’t know anything about until a few weeks ago, but now it is all we hear about from the time we wake up until we go to sleep. We see the news talking about it, people sharing tweets about how they’re scared to get it, and websites informing us on what it is exactly.

I’ve followed everything about Ebola unfold these past few weeks—by reading numerous articles, tracking people’s reaction, and watching the endless media coverage. I have been patient, I really have but I can’t hold back any longer. I’ve been wanting to say this for a long time.

We. Need. To. End. The. Madness. Now.

Before the recent outbreak in West Africa, we had no idea what Ebola was and probably never heard it until six weeks ago. If any of us had been challenged to a conversation a few months back on what it is and how it spreads, we would have heard a room of crickets chirping. But today, everyone has something to say—whether it be factual information or blatant, ignorant comments. What I’ve watched and read is enough for my eyes to give up and roll out of my head. So before that happens, let me make a few critical points about Ebola.

Ebola is not airborne.
Recently, Real Housewives of Atlanta stars, Kandi Burruss and Cynthia Bailey, posted pics on their Instagram wearing masks on an airplane to avoid Ebola.This seems to be the biggest misconception because sales of masks have gone up significantly. Airborne diseases spread through pathogens in the air from bacteria, fungus, or a virus—and are usually transmitted by coughing, sneezing, or spraying liquids. Examples are the flu, measles, tuberculosis and chickenpox. For someone to contract the Ebola virus, they must come directly into contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids: such as blood, mucus, urine, feces, breastmilk, and others. So those individuals running around with masks on, either you’re playing pretend doctor or just ignorant.

Ebola has been around for quite some time now.
The first Ebola outbreak dates back to 1976, but with the media’s coverage on it, you’d think it was discovered yesterday. Nope. Most of you are 38 years late to the conversation. Ebola was discovered when two outbreaks occurred simultaneously in 1976, one in Sudan and the other in Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo). Isn’t it great when a white man discovers something, it suddenly becomes relevant?

Ebola jokes and the indifference towards Africans dying.
I’m Nigerian-American and although I’m sure I would be just as affected if I wasn’t, I don’t understand why the suffering of so many West Africans is humorous. Ebola itself has not only been made into something we should fear—but it has heightened the fear and judgment of Africans, something we can sit around and laugh about because those affected are seen as inferior to us. From Ebola halloween costumes to insensitive “funny” memes, we think this is a laughing matter. There is nothing comical about the deaths of 4,922 Africans, as people are dropping dead on the street, only to have flies and maggots eating away at their corpse because there aren’t enough body bags to put them in. The 2014 Ebola outbreak is the worst one in history. Have a little compassion and snap out of your elitist mentality: Your life isn’t more valuable than anyone else’s.

Media coverage surrounding ebola has been very problematic.
The media does a great job sensationalizing topics, thus influencing hysteria in the public. And on this especially, the media has failed us terribly. First, it made many people believe they need to fear for their lives because the “Big Bad Ebola Wolf” is out to get them. Every time someone coughs, sneezes, or shows symptoms of a common cold—the paranoia sets in. Everyone is freaking out, but most of them don’t even understand how difficult it is to transmit the disease. Thus far, only four Americans have been diagnosed with Ebola on this soil: Thomas Duncan, who contracted the virus on a trip to Liberia; Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, who cared for Duncan before his death (it should be noted that both women have been cleared of the virus); and Craig Spencer, a New York doctor who recently returned from West Africa to help care for Ebola patients. All of these people, including Duncan, got the virus by caring for an infected person. So, you, average American, should know it’s highly unlikely to contract Ebola.

The media has also done one heck of a job vilifying and dehumanizing Africans, both those who have Ebola and those who don’t. The nonstop cycle of rehashing the same news, increasing the paranoia and hysteria, is maddening. In short, the media has done an excellent job turning African victims of disease into monsters, instead of showing them the compassion they deserve. It almost seems like the media is saying, “How dare those dirty infested people bring their sickness to America?! Stop all flights from Africa so we can protect ourselves!”

I’m sorry, but who needs the protection: the one American currently affected or the West African countries that have over 10,000 cases and nearly 5,000 deaths? Who has more to worry about: the healthcare workers risking their lives to save others or people like you developing anxiety by watching the news? Two Nigerian students were denied admission to a Texas college because they weren’t accepting applicants from countries who have been affected by the virus. I find this to be ironic because Nigeria, a “third-world country” is the only affected West African nation so far to contain the virus. As of now, they are Ebola free.

Liberians have taken to social media to reclaim their humanity, holding up signs declaring they are human beings, and not a virus. The media’s portrayal of Africans these past few weeks has been heartless, insulting, and stereotyping. Silencing those affected and making it about us and our safety is just as deadly as the virus itself.

I don’t know how long Ebola will continue to affect the lives of thousands in West Africa, but I know the coverage on traditional and social media needs to change. The jokes must stop. The paranoia has to end. You are much more likely to get cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or a STD before Ebola.
It’s. Not. That. Serious.

So please, keep calm and take off your masks. I promise, you’ll be alright.

Ogechi Emechebe is a journalism major that loves reporting on issues such as gender equality, social justice and healthy lifestyles. When she's not writing, she enjoys reading, working out and cooking. She can be reached at emechebe1021@yahoo.com.

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