Africa Mayors Worry Media Coverage of Ebola Crisis Hurting Unaffected Countries
New York — Elected leaders from throughout Africa in New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly are hoping to make the case that, while Ebola is a problem in West Africa, most of the continent is unaffected.
Thousands of people in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have died from the deadly virus since the outbreak was first reported in February. A small number of people travelling from those countries have been diagnosed with Ebola in Senegal, Nigeria and Democratic Republic of the Congo.
At a meeting ahead of the General Assembly, members of the Global Alliance of Mayors and Leaders of Africa and of African Descent expressed frustration that many people believe Ebola is a problem on the entire African continent.
“Please, it is not true,” said Alfred Vanderpuije, mayor of Accra, Ghana and the president of the alliance.
“Africa is a continent and so if Ebola is in three countries, which is Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, it does not represent the entire Africa.”
Alliance members are concerned that the news media often don’t differentiate the affected countries from all of Africa.
Google “Ebola, Africa” and your likely to see headlines like this from the Guardian, “Ebola epidemic, experimental drugs to be rushed to Africa,” or this from CNN: “Blair: 3 ways to help Africa beat Ebola.”
Some news organizations headline Ebola in “West Africa,” which Vanderpuije said is more accurate but still gives the impression that the virus is more widespread than it really is.
“There is a bigger world than you see on television and the bigger world is that Ebola and its effects is only a minority, a small effect of what is happening in Africa,” said Vanderpuije.
News of the outbreak has affected tourism and was also on the minds of the mayors at the meeting in New York, which was part of a planning session for a global summit of mayors from 80 countries being held in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire in December.
In late August the United States World Cup Basketball Team cancelled an exhibition game in Senegal after a student from Guinea was diagnosed with Ebola in Dakar. The student has since recovered.
The next planning meeting of the alliance is scheduled for mid-November in Accra, Ghana, prompting several of the mayors to note that their respective governments would not allow them to attend unless they received assurances that they would not face health risks in Ghana.
The United Nations Security Council last week held an emergency meeting on Ebola, only the second time the body has met on a health matter. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for $1B in aid to help end the crisis, a move Vanderpuije praises.
“We are concerned, yes, about the existence of the Ebola disease, but it is under control. With the world commitment to the issues of Ebola, I know that we are going to have a cure. That (Ebola) should not deter people from coming to Africa.”
Vanderpuije hopes the media continues to focus on the Ebola crisis but he’s calling for more education on where people should and should not go and what they should and should not do to avoid catching the virus