The psychological scar of the Ebola scare

The psychological scar of the Ebola scare

It is most likely that a lone black face in a crowd will attract suspicion and that person would be isolated and subjected to an Ebola test.

That is the consequence of the gloomy picture painted of that part of the continent referred to as West Africa since the first cases of the Ebola virus were reported in March this year.

Coincidentally, the continent was just emerging from or at least adjusting to another major health challenge -- the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection and the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), the final stage of the disease, which caught public attention about three decades ago.

Such was the intensity of the information and so outrageous were the figures being churned out by the powerful Western media that it all pointed at a continent on the path of extinction.

Here in Ghana, we were at one stage presented with statistics which claimed averagely, 200 people got infected by the HIV in a day.  Simple mathematics will indicate that going by this figure, an average of 200 Ghanaians would die daily after 10 years or so, when the disease got to the AIDS level, its final stages.

The continent became the target of all manner of anti-HIV/AIDS campaigns, most of which portrayed Africans as the most promiscuous and polygamous species on earth.

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Precious funds that could be channelled into development and into addressing other health challenges were diverted into the anti-HIV/AIDS effort, most of which ended in private pockets.

Multitudes of non-governmental organisations sprang up locally and internationally, either conducting public education on the disease, caring for orphan victims or fighting stigmatisation against people living with HIV and AIDS.

The pandemic diverted a lot of attention and presented a picture of a vulnerable people who needed the attention and support of the rest of the world.

So aggressive was the campaign and the misinformation it carried along that any case of malaria, diarrhoea or plain malnutrition was regarded with suspicion accompanied by stigmatisation.

The continent became a fertile experimentation ground for foreign pharmaceutical companies which tested all manner of drugs with the kind approval of our governments on the people, the side effects of some that may not show until many years later when we have all forgotten about them, all in the name of fighting HIV/AIDS.

We were told the virus came from monkeys, apes and other forest animals, some of which are killed for human consumption. Unfortunately, our governments and health scientists never questioned the source and cause of the pandemic nor tried to have an independent investigation into it to come to their own conclusions.

We remained religious recipients of whatever was thrown at us and any attempt to raise questions was cruelly and hastily muffled in the voice of isolation and condemnation.

Local herbalists, who came forward to make claims that they could handle HIV cases, were quickly silenced because the White person had declared that there was no cure, so why should a Black person challenge that assertion? The inferiority complex syndrome continued to reign.

Nearly 30 years down the line when Africa is trying to leave HIV/AIDS behind and market its industrial opportunities to the rest of the world, a new scourge with greater consequences has reared its ugly head.

Strangely, Ebola has also been traced to monkeys and forest bats that Africans have shared the environment with for centuries.  There are conspiracy theories being bandied about which unexpectedly will not attract any serious attention from African governments and health scientists.

Our leaders and health professionals have already started screaming for foreign assistance without any effort to study the phenomenon and see whether there is any home-grown remedy.

We shall soon be receiving various drugs from different sources all trying to help without considering the long-term effects.

What is even more dangerous about Ebola, unlike HIV/AIDS is that, it is highly contagious which threatens regional integration and exposes the continent to global isolation.

Already, West Africa has lost all national boundaries and has become one vast piece of land. To the outside world, therefore, any person from any part of West Africa is an Ebola suspect.

Very soon, as the hype intensifies, movement between the sub-region and possibly the whole continent and the rest of the world would face severe restrictions and thus, further deepen  our woes.  

Africa is no longer the dark continent, but a continent of death. How sad.

We have set the tone ourselves by throwing the African Cup of Nations football competition into doubt after the Ebola smear campaign.  Can we blame others in other parts of the world who would have nothing to do with us?

As it is, we must prepare for a long battle not only to extricate ourselves from the Ebola scare, but more importantly, the psychological scar it is going to leave with us for years to come.

The best we can do for ourselves is to take full control of events and not leave it in the hands of the foreign media that would put a twist to everything and portray Ebola as another sign of Africa's hopelessness and helplessness.


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