West Africans at Morgan Feel “Helpless” about Ebola Crisis

By Meaca Downing

 

For many Morgan students and professors the Ebola virus that is tearing through West Africa seems very far away. For others, it hits closer to home. Many in the Morgan community have family members in West Africa and worry about them.

Morgan has one student from each of the three countries struggling with the disease according to Richard Kitson-Walters, Director of International Student and Faculty Services. Kitson-Walters also explained that students are feeling a range of emotions, from scared and concerned to helpless and anxious.

Morgan’s Professor Umaru Bah is from Sierra Leone, one of the countries hit the hardest by the disease. Referring to his hometown, Freetown, he says, “People there are scared.”

He is so far away and yet still feels the woes of his people back home. “I feel a sense of helplessness,” Bah says. “Things are so messed up there. Their health system there is practically nothing.”

“The government knew about Ebola since December but dragged its heels,” he explained. “That allowed the virus to spread.” Also, he notes, the virus cropped up on the porous borders between three countries, this further complicated things.

Every aspect of life there has been impacted, even sports. The 2014 African World Cup, which will take place in Morocco on January 17, 2014, may be postponed due to fears of the disease.

Bah’s mother still lives in the city and although she is fine, she has complaints about the slowing of the economy. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations had to air lift a lot of food to a certain regions in Sierra Leone, Bah says, explaining that many regions have been hard hit. He puts the scene into context for Baltimoreans: “Imagine that Baltimore was quarantined but people in Harford, Howard and Montgomery County get their food from Baltimore City. Trade has come to a stand-still because the people [and goods] are not moving.”

Education has also almost completely stopped. “Grades K through twelve, most schools no longer have classes.” He continued, “Students don’t want to go because they do not know if other students have it, and professors feel the same way. Teachers are not teaching, so they don’t have money, and so on.”

For his part, President Wilson urges the Morgan community to “stay informed and to review CDC for further information.” On October 7, Wilson sent an email to the Morgan student body with a link to the CDC website and urged students to “thoroughly review the entire link… as well as other sources of reliable information regarding this health-related situation.”

The president also said that the School of Community Health and Policy will produce a forum to help confront the issue of Ebola. The forum will discuss Ebola and other diseases. Further information about the forum will be released soon.

The department of international affairs is hosting a symposium on Global Health Epidemics on November 20th 2014.

Many students who received the email didn’t even read. “Yeah, I saw the email but I didn’t really read past the first sentence or click the link for that matter,” said DeShonte Wood, an accounting major. “People on campus do not even understand the symptoms completely, but I’m not really worried about it [Ebola] on campus.”

President Wilson insisted that “based on feedback from the university community the email was effective. The goal was to educate students, faculty and community about these situations in real time.” He also said: “We will send out an email next week of what information has been shared by the White House and the CDC.” Keep the CDC website nearby, he advises. “And visit it frequently to find out what the nation’s take is on the Ebola virus.”

Meanwhile, travel restrictions are in place at international airports around the country. Morgan does not have any policies in place to regulate the travel of its students or staff as of now.

Some students are not worried at all. “I’m from Haiti, but have some West African friends,” said Whitney Dorielan, a health administration major. “I’m surprised that there are no regulations on traveling to those countries [affected], as far as Morgan is concerned. But they should alert the school if they are going or coming from the continent.”

Some universities have been in the spotlight for their reaction to Ebola. The Syracuse School of Journalism uninvited Michel du Cille, a Washington Post Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, after administrators learned of his travels to Liberia three weeks prior.

According to a press release put out Lorraine Branham, the dean of the School of Journalism at Syracuse, “He was disinvited because of concerns that were generated by some students.”

People are afraid of the disease spreading.

“My sister is coming into town this week,” Bah said. “We had to tell our kids when you go to school, do not to tell people that their aunt is from Africa.”

“I didn’t think that discrimination would happen,” said Ashley Lyles, a business management major. “But I could see why people would discriminate against people like that. Everyone is just scared. Is it wrong? Yes. But it is a reaction that isn’t surprising.”

Other students are less concerned. “I have friends from Liberia and Sierra Leone,” said Aminu Pj-Akpan, a business management student from Lagos, Nigeria. “The odds of anyone catching it here seem pretty slim, so I’m not really concerned. I do feel for people in those countries affected. I only wish they had followed whatever procedures that Nigeria did to prevent this, Nigeria was not playing around.”

Nigeria was the first country in West Africa to be deemed officially Ebola free by WHO (world health organization) on October 20th.

“The most dangerous combination is ignorance and hysteria,” said  Bah.

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