Sunday 14 September 2014


Some facts and reflections on Ebola from a French newspaper, Libération, picked up at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, earlier this day. 

More than 2000 deaths and 5000 affected in the space of a few months.

A disease with a 90% mortality rate, the Ebola virus was discovered and identified in 1976 by the Belgian microbiologist Peter Piot, now 65. Piot notes that, especially in a poor country, the hospital that receives the first victims becomes the first means of propagation. At least for now, Ebola is a disease of poor countries with poor sanitation and health facilities, all of which facilitate contagion. It is not by chance that the countries most affected, Liberia and Sierra Leone, are also countries that have been badly affected by civil wars. - Maria Malagardis, “Ebola, une plaie ouverte en Afrique,” Libération (samedi et dimanche, 13-14 septembre 2014) 2-3.

War and disease: two scourges of humanity. But war is at least caused by coldly rational factors and decisions – territory, ego, power, money, religion – whereas in the case of epidemics, an irrational factor enters: fears and the resurgence of ancestral beliefs. Diseases like Ebola demand to be fought therefore also on this front. But also on the front of humanitarian aid and medicine. Remedies exist, even if vaccines are still being developed. - Alexandra Schwartzbrod, “Éditorial: Fantasmes,” ibid. 2.

In their work in the countries affected by the Ebola virus, NGOs are now usually accompanied by anthropologists. In 2000, Barry Hewlett of the Washington State University, Vancouver, was the first anthropologist to be confronted with Ebola in Uganda. Hewlett says that Africa has its own ways of facing epidemics. Humanitarian workers need to know and respect this, so as to make use of them and at times know how to respectfully get around them, such as the funeral custom of washing bodies and touching and embracing them. The famous anthropologist recommends that anthropologists accompany humanitarian aid missions to countries affected by epidemics. He also says that aid workers must by now know to expect resistance from the local people. But he was shocked to read that aid workers were surprised by people’s hostility. As for quarantines, people easily give in to fears and rumours when faced with impenetrable barriers and walls which make it impossible to know what is going on inside. He has a simple suggestion: simple enclosures that are transparent. - Barry Hewlett interviewed by Fabrice Rousselot, “’Africa a sa facon de faire face aux épidémies,’” ibid. 6.

In the meantime, our Salesian confreres in Liberia bravely stay on, taking care of the more than 200 orphans entrusted to them by a beleaguered government, children who have lost their parents to the dreadful disease.

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