The Ebola outbreak has already killed thousands in West Africa, and the disease has now been contracted by people in North America and Europe. The response by the mass media and of many individuals has been centered on the fear of the disease, this is one which lends itself to extremist views regarding the response that should be taken as well as disbelief in the disease and conspiracy theories explaining the events.
The Ebola outbreak, which began in West Africa this summer, is inevitably making its way around the world. Specifically, it has made its way to the United States, confirming the fear that Americans have had since the initial outbreak. The number of people infected by the disease since the outbreak began is terrifying and the rapid rate of infection is startling. The Centre for Disease Control places the total number of cases at 10 141 with the deaths at 4922, as of October 25th.
Outside of Africa, there are currently five cases, each one of which have been closely watched by the global community. When Thomas Duncan, the first confirmed Ebola patient on American soil, was diagnosed in Dallas, Texas, or when a nurse treating him had been infected and allowed to board a plane; the mass media reported developments in the story by the minute. Additionally, there are a number of investigations currently under way about the specifics of how the disease was contracted – the time Duncan spent in the hospital among other patients, the number of people on board a plane with the patient – in effort to prevent additional cases. The health workers making mistakes and the customs officers at airports have been strictly scrutinized in such investigations. General decisions regarding those who are infected and those who might be are being had in the public domain; everyone seems to have an opinion on the matter and they are more than willing to offer up. While the spread of this fatal disease for which there is no approved treatment is frightening, citizens of the world have taken it upon themselves to report everything and offer opinions about everything, leading to unnecessary hysteria and a lack of focus on the real problems Ebola causes.
It is not hard to see how the individual cases of the non-African patients are targeted and retain such media attention as well as advice from the public about the best response. This includes those who have been diagnosed outside of Africa as well as the doctors who had contracted the disease while in West Africa. Similarly, they also received the experimental treatment before the supplies ended. Yet Thomas Duncan’s family has made claims that he did not receive proper treatment while he was sick or even after his death on account of him being an African.
Teju Cole’s satirical piece in the New Yorker plays on the fact that while we do not know what Ebola is, we know to fear it. With statements such as “Is Ebola the ISIS of biological agents?” and “The World Health Organization calls it the Putin of Stalin”, Cole mocks our intake of mass media. The way in which great evils are fetishized and only understood in relation to each other unveils a great deal about how we absorb such knowledge and crises happening around the world.
It is not just the fear of the unknown; it is the fear of something that came from Africa. One cannot ignore the fact that the numbers infected and areas affected by the deadly disease is directly correlated to the socioeconomic condition in which those populations live. The lack of access to medical care plays a huge role in the lack of treatment. In an attempt to understand this strange occurrence happening worldwide, people have done what they do best, and that is to come up with irrational explanations and conspiracies; prime examples of such responses can be found everywhere from FreeRadioRevolution to the TheMindAwakened.
Let it not be forgotten that this disease does pose a very real threat, particularly to those in West Africa who lack access to most forms of medical care. However, the mass media’s sensationalizing of the events, and the conspiracy theories to match, can easily be seen as an exaggerated reaction. The fear of the unknown, and worst, the unknown that has come from Africa, is what is at play here.