Via The Guardian, an op-ed by Lola Okolosie: Ebola has infected public discourse with a new xenophobia. Excerpt:
Like Sars and swine flu before it, Ebola has gripped the national imagination. I was made all too aware of this last week on my return to London from a holiday in Nigeria.
I’m now two thirds of the way through my second pregnancy, and was due to have a routine midwife’s appointment the day after my flight landed at Heathrow. The only problem was that my midwives refused to see me.
They took this precaution as a result of two factors – my poorly toddler, who had a slight temperature, and heavy news coverage of the Ebola outbreak in west Africa. They referred me instead to my GP.
Their wisdom was debatable. I was travelling from Nigeria, a country in which so far only two people have been quarantined as a result of possible contact with the disease. And in any case, a GP’s waiting room is not the best place to take a potentially deadly virus. Thank goodness I’m not infected.
Faced with the possibility of Ebola, my midwife was overly cautious. It’s a reaction I can understand, so I’m not inclined to judge or diminish it. Media coverage of the outbreak, however, doesn’t deserve the same reticence.
In the press, communities dealing with the virus have been presented as irrationally suspicious of western medicine. The suggestion has been that they are, like the continent they live on, their own worst enemies.
Reporting should do more than repeat stale narratives of African “ignorance”; frontline health workers have exposed themselves to huge risk. The fact that remote west African communities may view medics with suspicion is therefore understandable. Fear and mistrust of western institutions might also be explicable in the context of a history of exploitation by multinationals and colonial governments alike.
Decontextualising the suspicion some people might display runs the risk of projecting “the image of Africa as ‘the other world’, the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilisation”. This was Chinua Achebe’s searing critique of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in 1975.
You don’t have to look too far to see the resonances today. The Sunday Times invoked Conrad’s novel with the front page headline, “Ebola doctor’s diary of hell in heart of Africa”, and, served up with breakfast or brunch, these stories act as a stark reminder of how vulnerable the trappings of our wealth and modernity are in the face of Africa’s diseased hordes.