Over 2,400 people have died of Ebola in West Africa, more than half of whom are Liberians. This is a serious disease, yet there is an unsettling amount of confusion among Liberians. As health professionals like Dr. Mosoka Fallah – who grew up in Monrovia and is heroically battling Ebola with his countrymen – fight to educate Liberians about this disease, conspiracy theorists are undermining their efforts with lies that imperil the lives of Liberians. I hope to convey the truth to Liberians and put an end to the dangerous rumors that threaten the very future of our still-healing country.
Where does Ebola come from? Ebola was first discovered in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976. Fruit bats are known to be the first carriers of the disease, which was spread to humans through interaction with one of these infected bats. Other animals, such as monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines, which may have eaten fruit dropped by infected bats, can also spread the disease to humans.
How is Ebola transmitted? Ebola is caused by direct contact with infected blood, secretions, and other bodily fluids. If you touch someone living or dead infected with Ebola, you risk contracting the disease. In densely populated areas, the disease can easily be spread on crowded public transportation like taxis and buses. The best solution is to keep infected persons isolated and get them treatment as soon as possible. This is why health workers have worked so hard and so courageously to keep patients with Ebola at community health clinics, where they can get the treatment that could save them and, at the same time, protect their own families and the rest of the community from spreading and contracting the disease.
How do you know if you should go to the health clinic? Symptoms including fever, fatigue, sore throat, headache, vomiting and diarrhea may be early warning signs of the Ebola virus. Those experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention immediately. The sooner Liberians go to the health clinic, the better we can protect our families, communities and our country.
These are the facts of the disease, yet some people are either intentionally or recklessly scaring Liberians into mistrusting health workers who have come to help. A recent example is Dr. Cyril Broderick who should be ashamed of himself and his writings. He should be a trusted member of the academic community, yet he is abusing this trust by trumpeting bogus conspiracy theories as fact and misleading Liberians about Ebola, saying that the United States created Ebola as a bioweapon and telling Liberians to resist help from Western countries. This is dangerous and embarrassing, considering how much the United States has done in the last few months to help us eradicate Ebola, not to mention his level of education. Dr. Broderick, your words will kill Liberians, and you should correct your statements and apologize to the entire country. Otherwise, you are only discrediting yourself.
The notion that the US caused Ebola is absurd and stupid. In fact, the current Liberian President has requested assistance from the United States, and it is delivering. For starters, the US has pledged $100 million dollars to help us through this crisis and is in the process of approving an additional $88 million to the CDC’s efforts in West Africa. President Obama just announced that the US will assist in constructing as many as 17 Ebola treatment centers with approximately 1,700 treatment beds as well as an Ebola command post in Monrovia staffed with 3,000 military personnel to supply medical and logistical support to the region. By doing this, the US is putting their own citizens at risk of contracting the disease with their Liberian brethren.
The US Department of Defense has also made the Ebola outbreak its number one priority because the safety of Liberia and our West African neighbors is at risk. In the past, they funded $140 million to research treatment for the Ebola virus, and because of this investment, we are now close to developing a vaccine for the virus. The DOD’s highly trained health care services will help us address Ebola head on. Without it, Ebola could get the better of us.
After years of civil war, our country’s health system is weak, and we don’t have the resources we need to fight this deadly disease. We need the international community to help us contain the disease now and rebuild our country’s hospitals and clinics so that we are better prepared for outbreaks in the future.
The dissemination of bogus claims and unfounded sensational allegations such as Dr. Broderick’s only serve to create an unstable and distrusting environment for medical workers to operate – the true heroes in this war against Ebola. Instead of using energy to spread false accusations and rumors that serve to undermine the effort against Ebola, we need to build trust, inform Liberians of the symptoms and ways to avoid contracting and spreading the disease. We need to communicate with our citizens that they should remain vigilant, stay calm, and take heed to health workers. This is what we should be doing instead of breeding distrust as Dr. Broderick and others are attempting to do.
We must encourage our doctors, educators and community leaders to assist us in the fight against the disease and the lies surrounding it. Not only the virus, but the misinformation surrounding it, continues to spread throughout West Africa, and especially in Liberia.
Liberia cannot beat Ebola on its own. We have already lost too many of our Liberian brothers and sisters and cannot stand to lose any more. Working together within our Liberian and international community will help us solve the Ebola crisis that affects us all. We must trust those who have come to help us, for this is the only way we will survive.