By Kat Hind
The UK government has described the Ebola outbreak in West Africa as “an unprecedented human tragedy”. The death toll has now reached more than 4,000 people worldwide and as both the UK and USA begin to introduce Ebola screening at airports and rail terminals, a climate of fear continues to grow amongst the British public. Both government and media have a responsibility to avoid the type of hyperbole that acts to sensationalise what is, at its core an international health crisis, not a scandal.
Here are the facts; Ebola does kill, Ebola is contagious and has spread from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
Ebola is primarily spread through coming into contact with the bodily fluids of someone showing signs of the virus and the virus itself is only one ninth as contagious as measles. The fatality rate, although high at 48%, is nowhere near the figure of 90% that some media outlets have taken from a previous, very isolated outbreak of Ebola. It is this type of exaggeration, seen most recently in the Bird Flu ‘pandemic’ frenzy that can cause both national and international panic.
It is unnecessary to create media hype around a deadly virus when, according to Public Health England, “The overall risk of Ebola to the UK remains low”. It would be irresponsible to create a fear of airports, a fear of travelling and a fear of anyone with flu-like symptoms.
We must avoid allowing a ‘climate of fear’ to be created in the wake of a tragedy like Ebola, as this kind of response has historically had even more dangerous repercussions on the decisions we make about our own health. There is a lengthy history of people fearing life-saving vaccinations because the possible side effects have been scandalised by some media outlets. For example, in the Western world it is taken for granted that illnesses such as measles and chickenpox are easily treatable; tragically this is still not a global privilege.
However, across the West there is a growing trend of parents no longer vaccinating their children because of the risks a vaccination purportedly poses. The MMR jab, a vaccination that saves lives, because yes, measles can kill, has been alleged to cause Autism. No link has been shown by any study (since the discredited Lancet Study) but due to the attention given to the allegation many parents believe the responsible thing to do is to leave their children unvaccinated. Not only can this endanger their child but it can also put others in danger, those members of society who cannot receive the vaccinations.
Whether it is the current Ebola outbreak, an international health crisis, or an ‘everyday illness’ that can be prevented or treated, it is our health experts; doctors, nurses, local surgeries and hospitals, that should educate and advise the greater public. Sensationalising something as vital and sensitive as our health is irresponsible. Our attention as a global community should be on helping those most affected, in this case in West Africa. We must avoid becoming preoccupied with our own fear, hypochondria and paranoia. It is safe to travel, airports have not become deadly, disease-ridden places, and the Western world is nowhere near as at risk as those living in the source countries. It is those people in Western Africa where the Ebola disease is devastating both families and communities, who we should be keeping our attention for.
Photograph – UNICEF Liberia