The Ebola outbreak first reported in West Africa is resulting in an international health scare. While untested drugs are being pushed around hoping that the disease can be contained, Ebola is hurting African people even more than we know it.
Ebola broke out in Africa, but people all around the world are affected. Europe, for an example, has not been directly affect by Ebola, but Ebola-based racial profiling is on the rise. Reports of the Ebola scare fueling racist reactions in Europe are forcing people to consider if prejudice is making a comeback, considering the ignorance around the virus itself.
On Tuesday, this week, an African woman passed out at a meeting in Berlin. This case would probably have never been reported, if it were not for the arrival of more than 60 German firefighters and police officers to isolate about 600 workers and lock down the building. The woman and her two aides who came to her rescue as she collapsed were rushed to the Charité Hospital in Berlin. Armed police officers stood guard at the building as they searched, allowing no one in sight either in or out of the premises.
What fueled this response was the rumor that this woman had recently returned to Berlin after a week-long trip to Kenya. The far-sighted reaction from the German police is appreciated, but the woman who returned from Kenya just had a stomach virus. She visited Kenya, not one of the Ebola-hit Western African countries and her African background was enough to put a building under lock down.
This is not the only isolated case of Ebola-fueled racism in Europe. Such examples have been reported from other European countries. Take the case of the African man with a nosebleed in July. While shopping at a mall in Brussels earlier in July, the African man who had a nosebleed was hurried away for medical attention. The store he was in was sterilized even before he tested negative for signs of Ebola.
Yet another example is one about a woman who flew to London from Gambia. She died after she fell ill from the flight. Examiners found no known symptoms of Ebola on her body to confirm if she came into contact with anyone affected by the disease during her time in Gambia.
Some Italian schools have taken this to the next level. African students are supposed to produce supplemental health certificates before starting school this year, although the same does not apply to while students who may may have visited Africa in the summer.
The only known European casualty thus far has been Father Miguel Pajares. The Spanish Catholic priest contracted the disease while providing much-needed religious aid and succor to the dying in Monrovia, Liberia. He died of Ebola in Madrid on August 12. The experimental drug ZMapp failed to save Fr. Pajare’s life, but thankfully, two American missionaries are now recovering after doses the drug worked on them.
In Voecklabruck, Austria, two men from Nigeria were quarantined under the suspicion that they were carrying the Ebola virus. Their detention can be understood as a safety measure as Nigeria is at the epicentre of this global epidemic. On a positive note, both men tested negative.
Reports of Ebola reaching Europe’s shores are being spread like wild fire. The fear of the virus is prompting hoaxes and rumors among locals, leading to blatant racism fueled by the paranoia. The fabricated rumors of the Ebola cases in Lampedusa, a Sicilian island close to North Africa, prompted a warning against blatant racism from Beatrice Lorenzin, the Italian health minister.
The island is often frequented by refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa. She asked Italians to be prudent without necessarily being paranoid. It is unfair to assume that every dark-skinned person is an Ebola carrier. To believe that they are, constitutes flagrant racism and does not serve any justifiable purpose.
Aggravated fears of the virus reaching Europe are still rampant. Paris may be the city that will bring Ebola into Europe because they still operate flights to West Africa. Air France still has direct services to Sierra Leone and Guinea, one the few major European airlines to continue operating in West Africa. This has pushed flight attendant and union leader Patrick Henry-Haye and 700 airline crew members to sign a petition asking Air France to stop flying to West Africa.
In an interview with Le Figaro, a leading French daily, Patrick Henry-Haye, refuted reports of the staff being trained to spot Ebola. All they knew, he says, is to don surgical masks and rubber gloves, identify an Ebola suspect and lock them in the lavatory.
His fear is understandable, to a certain extent. Who is going to keep the passengers calm if the attendant himself is scared to death? Locking the suspects in the lavatories is not enough of a preventative measure for Henry-Haye, who would like Air France to stop flying to West Africa. If that ever occurs, West Africa would be left isolated and forced to fend for itself. A safety request like this puts the importance of national security above the Ebola scare.While it can be argued that it is an overreaction, at least it does not seem to be one motivated out of racism.
Fears of the virus being air-borne have been quelled by Margaret Chan, the Director-General of WHO. She has not banned travel to and from the affected countries, but nevertheless she did caution travelers to be careful at international airports. People from the affected areas may board flights at these airports but the chances of contracting the disease are higher than they would be at other airports.
The World Health Organization (WHO) branded the Ebola health scare an international public health concern, but since the disease is transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids and is not airborne, flights can still operate. It still means you have to be safe and take precautions, but not necessarily go overboard and be motivated by irrational fears.
The Youth Olympics in China does not have any African participants in the events this year. Privacy concerns in a few countries prohibit any inquiries as to the whereabouts of international passengers. This has fueled an ever bigger concern for Europe, which is worried that the anonymity around the concerns for privacy will allow the virus in.
The “solution” to the problem has seemed to be, up to this point, channeling the fear of the Ebola virus in Europe into a reason to fuel racism against dark-skinned people, even to people who are non-carriers of the Ebola virus. Interestingly Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and WHO, both based in Europe, are trying their best to shed this image. Leading by example, these European health organisations are doing their best to help Africa heal. Though the process often seems to moving slowly, it is at least occurring steadily.
Opinion by Rathan Paul Harshavardan.