The Problem with Ebola, Part 1

Over the past few months, there's been a lot of talk about Ebola in West Africa. And this has sparked a lot of responses from Africans, both on the continent and in the Diaspora. It's also sparked a lot of responses from the Western world--many that have felt ignorant and upsetting to me as an African.

My biggest pet peeve has been how the media has portrayed it. I was in journalism for a while, and I've always found a strong distaste for articles that were more about sensation than about clear, objective reporting. Most of the articles I've read have promoted ignorance and a "panic" about Ebola versus really presenting the reality of the disease and how it's being handle. An example: West Africa has a lot of countries. And only 4 of those countries have been dealing with Ebola. Two of the four have contained it and it is no longer a problem. Yet all the articles simply just reference "West Africa." 

As a doctor, my sister has had lots of thoughts and conversations about Ebola, and has also not appreciated the mass media's representation. So the following is a guest blog she has written to share her thoughts and ideas and the issue.

The Problem with Ebola, Part 1                                                 original written: August 16, 2014

Streams of tears flow from my eyes because my people are destroyed. – Lamentations 3:48

In a developed country, it's easy/natural to have a poorly calibrated suffering meter. Even those in poverty have at least the potential to access healthcare, food, and shelter - the basic rights, right? (And yes, sadly, I know not everyone actually receives these resources.) This of course does not mean that people don't suffer, as the title of an old telenovela states "The Rich Also Cry." It seems that tears are universally-understandable in some situations (death, isolation, illness, etc.) and in others, they fall under the area popularly-termed "First World Problems." We give Scrooge from the Dickens' story a bad rap, and although he is an extremely negative caricature; to some extent, he represents many of us with First World Problems. How many of us use a version of this line "are there no prisons... no workhouses?" to defend our ignorance and detached views on others' suffering? There's a disconcerting truth to those words... After all, aren't there established non-profit organizations set up to deal with all the messy kinds of suffering? We don't need to be touched by it because it's not our calling to work for these said organizations (God bless the people who do, we say). We do our part by giving them money - after we prove they are legit (you know how crooked some of these people can be) and also in a setting where people see us doing the good deed (my tree should not fall in a quiet forest, but perhaps in a glitzy fundraiser). Those cachectic, malnourished kids on the commercial can't be real, right? And even if we are convinced they are real, a part of us are soothed by the fact that it's not our problem... it's someone else's bad fortune... the cards we/they were dealt (excuse me, blessed with)... Again, these words have truth to them and the money is needed (fundraiser or not), but they cannot justify ignorance or callousness. Some of you may feel I'm preaching to the choir and some of you may feel guilty... Well, this is more of a wakeup call – to those in the choir (myself included), stop patting yourself on the back and continue to sing (i.e., do good works, love your neighbor) and those who feel guilty (again, myself included), expend your energy on worthy things (i.e., feeling guilty won't help anyone, but caring about someone other than yourself will). 

The summary of my mini-diatribe:

- Take a moment out of each day to care about someone other than ourselves. Mr./Ms. Good Samaritan, your neighbor may be a family member, a co-worker, or a complete stranger. Make caring a habit...

- Don't be too comfortable in your version of goodness (that’s great that you watched Blood Diamond and now wear a conflict-free diamond, well done for getting a “#Bring Back Our Girls” t-shirt, Props for going to the latest rally, it's great you donated money at that benefit concert, etc – just remember that caring is not a trend or a one-time thing… again, make caring a habit).

- Avoid being guilt-motivated but instead be conviction-motivated (otherwise your caring deeds end up being ironically selfish).

This note was originally intended to be about my views on the "current" Ebola crisis and in a way it is, but the fact of the matter is... the problem is way bigger than Ebola... We live in an "Upstairs, Downstairs"/"Downton Abbey" existence, and it's only when the worlds start colliding or when they hit close to home (or for some, when they show up with a Twitter hashtag) that we begin semi-caring... Our global "small" world has always been and continues to be full of social injustices and tragic inequality. 

Not Caring about them would be the biggest First World Problem of them all. 


Share this:



  1. Great post! I really like the mini-diatribe. Very solid, tangible points!