Writing, at least for the past month+, has involved intensive research and writing on the subject of Ebola, or more specifically, Ebola in West Africa. I know more about Ebola than I ever wanted to know. It is one of those subjects that exposes everything wrong with our media.
First of all, the general tenor of the media reporting has had a distinct flavor of “those uneducated, backwards brown people.” Do any reading at all, and you’d think that the “traditional burial practices” involve rolling around with the dead person, propping them up in the corner and sitting on their lap like Santa Clause. Here are your traditional burial practices: wash the body, have a funeral to which the entire community is invited and at which family and friends are likely to touch the deceased, and bury the body.
What of this is so different than the way we bury people here? Okay, so we farm out the washing to the mortuary, where they suck out all of the fluids and replace them with chemicals, then paint up the body so it approximates life. Then we have funerals, and I’ve been to several. People touch the body here and kiss the forehead here too. And then the body is buried. If my mom had died of Ebola, I would have caught it. I touched her as she was laying in the hospital, I touched her after she died. The problem isn’t cultural nuances, it is that someone who dies of Ebola is more contagious after they’ve died, so any contact at all is a risk for transmission. Yet and still, the bodies must be buried.
Second, you’d think that pervasive ignorance was to blame for the magnitude of the spread of this Ebola outbreak. No mention of abject, grinding poverty. No discussion of corrupt governments, the legacy of civil war, not enough doctors, health clinics with too little staff, no supplies… Nope, those backwards brown people.
And then, if that wasn’t enough, the narrative about how the western world – the “international community” – intervened with education, contact tracing, safe burials, and proper care protocols, and saved the day. Clearly, money made a huge difference. Money, supplies, doctors, etc. And yes, education was required. All of that required resources… Ebola had never been seen in West Africa before. But West Africans did a hell of a lot to save themselves too. And the idea that learning was a problem doesn’t hold water, because the same report that hints at ignorance and intractability also points out that stigma and fear of Ebola lead to healthcare workers being ostracized and threatened with violence.
Get into the story and it’s fair to say that Ebola in West Africa was a clusterfuck of epic proportions, and will continue to be felt for a long time. Ebola is terrifying, but what about the fact that kids who didn’t get vaccinated because the whole system fell apart over Ebola are now at risk for dying for measles at a rate equal to the number of Ebola deaths? Yeah. Bet the media isn’t going to have histrionics about *that.*
So yes. I know more about Ebola than I ever wanted to know. And I’m incredibly grateful that I haven’t had to watch anyone I love die of it. And the Ebola orphans make me want to quit everything and just go hug children in Africa. And I hate how stupidly, structurally colonial and racist the media is.
That is all.