The West’s coverage of the African Ebola outbreak– now claiming more than 600 lives— has focused extensively on the facts: the symptoms, victims, and the potential of it spreading past the continent. In the four affected countries, however, the media has written everything from warnings to avoid witch doctors to urgent calls for prayer.
In Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria– the four countries to have registered individuals contaminated with Ebola since the outbreak began in March, the media has focused on various localized aspects of the disease. Some have focused on warning readers how to avoid the Ebola virus entirely. Nigeria’s Vanguard, for example, relayed preventative tips from the Director of the National Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Professor Abdulsalim Nasidi, who assured residents that the one instance of Ebola in their country, a man traveling from Liberia with the virus, did not have to start a nationwide epidemic. That said, he warned that “those who come in direct contact of excretions of the dead are primary high risk group”– often family members who perform elaborate funeral ceremonies– and that some traditions must be postponed until the threat of the virus is over:
Warning communities that eat bats, he said this is the time for them to desist from consuming it. Similarly, he noted that some communities that worship bats and keep them in their houses should be very careful and stop the act.
The Liberian Observer relayed advice also targeted at rural communities from legislator Ms. Mariamu B. Fofana, who urged residents who observe Ebola symptoms in family to take them to hospitals and trust medical personnel. “Instead of people taking family members, relatives, and friends to health centers to get further medications, they are now leaving the hospitals and other health centers and using the bush for African treatments to fight the virus contracted,” she explains, adding, “Taking the sick to the bush will increase the problem for other people who have not come across the virus. It is important for us to find the best way to fight the virus.”
Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea have had significant problems with individuals attacking medical personnel and denying them access to sick patients. In one case, a woman was abducted from a hospital in Sierra Leone and brought to a traditional herbalist, endangering anyone who came into contact with both the herbalist and anyone in the vicinity of the patient.
Aside from warnings, African media has heavily covered what it deems the “spiritual response” to the Ebola crisis. The Observer reports that, in Liberia, both Muslim and Christian community leaders have organized to issue “statements of encouragement to the health workers as well as radio commentaries advising citizens and residents to adhere to preventive measures to help sustain the virus.”
Sierra Leone’s most widely read newspaper, the Awareness Times, reports that multiple groups are organizing prayer demonstrations to eradicate the disease. One group of Muslim believers tells the newspaper that “they are of the firm belief that after the All Nights of Prayer, Sierra Leone will experience, if not total eradication but mass reduction in the positive Ebola test results.” A Christian woman’s group organized similarly, congregating more than 500 believers, whose pastor told the newspaper that “Sierra Leoneans have turned away from God and until we repent this negative trend of events is bound to continue even after the Ebola episode.”