A number of things are killing South Africans at the moment: High-salt diets. Farm attacks. Tuberculosis. Hypertension. Viagra-induced heart attacks…
The list is almost endless.
What is not a threat to most people however, is Ebola. Take this from a self-confessed germaphobe (like myself), who uses more hand-sanitizer than necessary and hasn’t touched raw chicken in years.
But I’m not even a bit worried about getting Ebola, because I’ll need to go out of my way to get it (and I’d probably still fail).
Fancy my courage? Well, let’s consider a few reasoned points.
Welcome to my Ebola masterclass
Before I continue, you’ll need to remove your face mask and lay down the Ebola hammer. Got that? Good.
Now, have you or your family members recently had direct contact with the bodily fluids (primarily blood) of a person infected with Ebola?
No? I figured.
Have you recently eaten wild meat or touched diseased bats?
Is that another no?
Lastly, have you washed the body of a deceased Ebola victim?
I’ll take that as a no.
So, guess what? You’re OK! You have no business stressing about Ebola.
Punching up the fear factor sells
Coined “the black swan of the apocalypse”, panic about Ebola has spiralled out of hand. The media often goes crazy about exciting ways to die, even over minuscule risks.
Scanning the news – and social media – right now you’d be forgiven for thinking that the virus is the major cause of death (alongside ISIS – which isn’t a geometry problem, by the way). The shock-and-awe value makes for television waves as huge and terrifying as tsunamis, but as infrequent as… well… tsunamis, only way slower.
So for the sake of pageviews and selling copies, the media has sandblasted us with fear. It’s time to clamber over each other like a crowd at a house party where someone has yelled “fire!” before actually striking a match.
HIV and Ebola transmission: Potato Potata
Look, I’m no medical professional, so I could be comparing apples and oranges here, but some of the excessive fear about Ebola is similar to the initial hysteria over AIDS. This led otherwise reasonable people to drive homosexuals from their midst.
Eventually, the citizenry came to realise they weren’t all going to die of AIDS and that the only way to contract HIV (and eventually AIDS) was by sharing bodily fluids.
So what I gather – medical non-pro that I am – is that the way one becomes infected with HIV or Ebola is pretty much of a muchness.
Unlike the common cold or viruses that cause food poisoning, Ebola does not spread through casual contact. It is also not airborne as there has not been a case of someone getting Ebola as a result of an infected person coughing on him/her.
So what I’m saying is that if Ebola, measles, flu and TB went head-to-head to see which one spread the fastest, guess which one wouldn’t end up on the podium?
If Ebola spread that easily, there would be hundreds of thousands of cases as opposed to the 3,439 cases that the World Health Organisation has recorded in West Africa since the Generations cast got fired.
Panic more dangerous than the disease itself
Soon after Donald Trump tweeted that the United States must “institute strong travel restrictions or Ebola will be all over the United States” I figured panic over the virus is more dangerous than the disease itself.
Yes, it has a high fatality rate when contracted. It’s extremely dangerous, very serious and must be contained. But heck, grounding flights and leaving people to die en masse isn’t the solution, I’m afraid.
Besides, I don’t think it keeps most epidemiologists up at night.
It could theoretically become a pandemic – that is, an out-of-control global epidemic – but experts say it’s unlikely.
The real solution? Modern healthcare
Ebola patients in Bombali, a district in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone, are dying under trees at holding centres or in reeking hospital wards surrounded by pools of infectious waste, cared for by minimally trained and protected nurses.
Extreme poverty, a broken public health system and the trauma of countries newly emerged from years of brutal warfare are just some of the cracks that Ebola have slipped through to ravage West Africa.
Unlike Nigeria, where Ebola infection seems to be over – partly because the considerably developed country was prepared for a possible outbreak and as a result, took quick action to limit its spread.
This proves that with a team of healthcare professionals, a flexible budget to support response activities, as well as trained officials at points of entry, Ebola could easily be contained.
Yes, even in West African countries, but only if the world hands over their piggy banks, build field hospitals, set up treatment centres and laboratories and also send scores of trained medical personnel.
As for you and me? What we really should be worried about is catching TB, which is the number one killer in South Africa.
Or you could just relax and enjoy the summer, because if you’re able to read this, you are not dying of Ebola!
Sefiso Hlongwane is a Johannesburg-based freelance journalist and contributor to News24’s Voices, Mail & Guardian ThoughtLeader, CliffCentral.com and Farai Today.