EDITORIAL: Ebola awareness vital
Ebola is a rare but deadly virus that causes bleeding inside and outside the body. As the virus spreads through the body, it damages the immune system and organs. Ultimately, it causes levels of blood-clotting cells to drop. This leads to severe, uncontrollable bleeding. The disease, also known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever or Ebola virus, kills up to 90 per cent of people who are infected.
?That’s the short description of Ebola, as given on the world’s single largest go-to site for health information on the Internet, WebMD. Just reading this is enough to offer an understanding of why the illness is so feared and why even the mention of its name in the wrong way can lead to deep worry. Add the news from the international media about the current outbreak in West Africa and you have a recipe for hysteria.
Earlier this week personnel in our newsroom received several telephone calls from Barbadians asking how the Government could allow the entry of 90 Nigerian hospitality students at this time when they are coming from a part of the world where the virus has taken so many lives.
A check of our personnel suggested that no members of the news staff knew of the plan to accommodate these students here prior to the first call.
Naturally, we initiated our own investigation, in the process speaking with Minister of Health John Boyce, Permanent Secretary in that ministry Tennyson Springer (a veteran and highly regarded health administrator) and a number of trusted sources in the health sector.
?Among the things we were able to ascertain was that local health authorities have made significant headway in preparing the island for any case of the virus that turns up here – and that the Government had taken a decision that the students would be accommodated at a later date.
As stated in the article we published yesterday, we have heard nothing from health officials to suggest that any of the students had been exposed to Ebola, or that there was any specific risk to the country.
What is clear to us, however, is that there was significant knowledge in the country about the planned stay of the Nigerians for academic purposes and that already many who knew were showing significant fear over their pending presence.
As both medical and non-medical persons have said to us since our publication, the decision could not have been based on any scientific/medical data. In these instances the individuals were critical of the decision of the Government to postpone the students’ arrival.
We are not in a position to argue for or against the factors that might have been considered, but we certainly can understand what would have been the thinking, even without access to the points those responsible would have pondered.
And what it does suggest to us is that while authorities have provided some information about the Ebola virus, how it is transmitted, what surveillance methods are in place and how any suspected or confirmed cases will be treated, there has to be considerably more focused public education.
?We humbly suggest that our health authorities utilise the communications experts available to them to ensure that information is provided to the population in such a way that it can triumph over the emotionalism that now characterises the Ebola discussion by the proverbial man on the street.
If the experts are satisfied that the Nigerian students pose no risks to the population then they should be accommodated, but at the same time it should be done with a population that is sufficiently educated that these students benefit from the warm embrace that is naturally Barbadian, as opposed to unfounded fear or suspicion.