Ebola hysteria and the stigmatization of African migrants

By Dana Lea
@DanaAnneLea
Oct. 21, 2014

Created by CDC microbiologist Frederick A. Murphy, this colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) revealed some of the ultrastructural morphology displayed by an Ebola virus virion. CDC Global/ Flickr Creative Commons.

Created by CDC microbiologist Frederick A. Murphy, this colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) revealed some of the ultrastructural morphology displayed by an Ebola virus virion. CDC Global| Flickr Creative Commons.

Mass media coverage of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and now in the United States, has left Americans just short of hysterics. In a culture that has an appetite for drama and daydreams of a zombie apocalypse, this is a recipe for disaster. And with the recent news of the tragic death Liberian Thomas Duncan and the infection of two of his Dallas nurses, many Americans are looking for someone to blame.

Within America, refugee resettlement agencies are beginning to worry about this American frenzy over Ebola. African refugees account for 20 percent of the world’s total refugees. Additionally, with a lack of public education come stereotypes and racism. Refugee resettlement sites fear that the anti-immigration right will use Ebola as an excuse to obstruct resettlement efforts.

Ebola is beginning to fuel everyday conversation and is the butt of many jokes, yet many Americans seem so under educated about something so easy to Google and understand. Paranoia and fear are only encouraged by this lack of education, and now many Republicans are throwing gas on that fire.

Many Republicans are blaming President Obama for the spread of Ebola into U.S. borders. Charles Fettinger/ Flickr Creative Commons.

Many Republicans are blaming President Obama for the spread of Ebola into U.S. borders. Charles Fettinger| Flickr Creative Commons.

The New York Times depicts Ebola response as a partisan issue in the upcoming weeks of the midterm elections, and many Republicans are quick to blame President Obama for Ebola’s appearance in the U.S — especially when it comes to his reluctance to issue a travel ban for ebola-affected countries (Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia).

Caricature of radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. DonkeyHotey/ Flickr Creative Commons

Caricature of radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. DonkeyHotey| Flickr Creative Commons.

Some conservatives have taken the theories to the extreme. Case in point, Rush Limbaugh. A couple of weeks ago Limbaugh went as far as to say that the spread of Ebola onto American soil was a desire of Obama and the Democrats to allow Liberians retribution for slavery. For those who aren’t aware, Liberia was a nation created by freed slaves. According to Limbaugh there is no liberal drive for a travel ban due to the fact America seems to “deserve” an outbreak.

Unfortunately, says the Times, public health officials are warning that a travel ban would actually be detrimental to the infected nations. The complete isolation of these nations would cripple them further into a humanitarian and health crisis while they are in such need of outside food and medical aid.

Some experts opposing the travel ban warn that it is just otherwise impossible to regulate with 100 percent accuracy. We cannot avoid the inevitable but we can manage the disease within the U.S. borders. For instance, those flying out of ebola-affected nations are currently being screened.

New Ebola isolation center being constructed in Freetown, Sierra Leone, 2014. Center for Disease Control Photo.

New Ebola isolation center being constructed in Freetown, Sierra Leone, 2014. Center for Disease Control Photo.

Yes, Ebola is definitely a scary disease. There is no vaccine, no cure, and a 50 percent fatality rate. But no, you will probably not get it in America since the risk for catching it is tremendously low. Additionally, there is no risk of transmission by those exposed to the virus before the symptoms occur, which should alleviate the concerns of Americans who think they might get it on an airplane from a fellow passenger who slipped through the screening measures.

In the affected countries, isolation of the infected is unmanageable. With crowded urban centers, unsatisfactory sanitation systems, crowded informal settlements and a lack of medical personnel and treatment space it is clear to see how the disease has spread so quickly within Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Yet this is not the case in America, where our hospitals are now on the alert and quarantine of the infected will be possible.

"The True Size of Africa," a size comparison of Africa and other nations of the world. Kai Krause/ Creative Commons.

“The True Size of Africa,” a size comparison of Africa and other nations of the world. Kai Krause/ Creative Commons.

What many Americans don’t seem to get is the enormous size of the continent of Africa. According to U.S. fiscal year 2015 refugee resettlement projections by the Department of State, the vast majority of African refugees originate from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and Somalia. Of the 17,000 African refugees expected to be resettled, most will certainly come out of nations deserts apart from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea – these refugees will be pulled mostly from camps in Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.

Furthermore, overseas and domestic health screenings are required of resettlement. The International Organization for Migration conducts most of these health screenings overseas, and any refugees with hazardous health issues are deemed unfit for resettlement. The domestic health screenings of refugees are required by law post arrival and usually occur within 30 to 90 days, though some agencies arrange these for earlier.

What is cumbersome about Ebola paranoia is that now some U.S. hospitals and health clinics are denying African refugees screenings until after the first 21 days. These overly cautious facilities are also requesting to know when clients arrived in the U.S. for fear that they could carry Ebola simply because they are from the continent of Africa. Trust me, if Ebola had gotten into the refugee camps it would have spread like wildfire, and we would have certainly heard of it by now!

2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa - Outbreak Distribution Map. Center for Disease Control.

2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa – Outbreak Distribution Map. Center for Disease Control.

As a member of the refugee resettlement community there are some justified concerns we hold during this frightened atmosphere. None of our clients are being taken out of the three Western African states, however, there is a still a fear of stereotyping of African migrants and the possible malice they may face from an uninformed public. Not only must recent migrants be weary of stigmatization, but African migrants who have lived in this nation for many years prior to the outbreak.

Furthermore, if adults don’t understand the outbreak, children are going to understand even less. This can lead to further bullying and teasing in the schools of migrant children, as David Hench mentions occurring in Maine. In concerns to refugee services, though at an extreme, it would be very cumbersome to resettlement efforts if fearful employers were to deny employment to African migrants. Furthermore, delays in health screenings could potentially lengthen the initial resettlement period for refugees in their communities.

We can only hope that the American public will embrace its migrant community at this time, instead of the opposite. Public opinion must be contained and education efforts must move faster than media hype.

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Posted by on October 21, 2014. Filed under National Politics,Race,Recent News,Social Justice,Top News,World. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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