Ebola Stigma: The Enemy Within
John Baimba Sesay-PR China
Just the other day, I had rushed down town, Central Beijing (Yashow) for some sunglasses when I met this Dutch businessman, himself search for same. Pleasantries were exchanged, given the friendly nature of the typical Sierra Leonean, always ready to make and meet new friends and expand on the beautiful features of humanity.
Curious, he appeared from his facial expression, his next question was to know whether I was a South African. “No, I Am a Sierra Leonean Diplomat here in China!” I told him. Next reaction! His eyes became openly opened like a sliding electric door waiting for someone wanting to enter.
And next from his lips was “what about the Ebola as I see the world is now fully aware about it and everyone is now acting?” “Yes, we do have that challenge at the moment”, I told him “but we shall overcome”, I assured him confidently. “Had the world acted promptly, we could not have gone thus far, but thank God we all acting now. As a country, we do appreciate the intervention of the International Community and I am in particular, thankful to China who came in promptly”, I further went.
In fact, there was this issue I brought up in terms of how we have been progressing in the last couple of years, in terms of building our infrastructure, fixing our economy, amongst other development initiatives “when this Ebola came from nowhere. But we are a resilient people and we shall overcome”, I sounded very strong and apparently, the ‘new friend’ I met gave us a pat on our back for all what we have been doing over the years.
Discussion came to an end .But no handshakes, no body contact and off we left each other. And I can sense his unwillingness to even touch me. This is just one story as I met some other Asians who asked similar questions and their body language as per their reactions were all similar to that of my ‘new friend’ the Dutch.
In fact, a Chinese friend was apparently not too happy, but could not dictate my wish when I told him, “I am contemplating to visit my country and see my family members in the coming weeks” He referenced the Ebola Virus and cautioned me to “take all precautionary measures necessary.”
“Thanks for your concern which I truly appreciate but again, Sierra Leone is the only country I call home and I have no option but to visit when the need arises”
I have read testimonies on a lot of WhatAssp Groups on how Sierra Leoneans are being stigmatized especially when travelling. I have seen how the ‘world media’ is even making things worse, when it comes to Ebola reportage. Some have ignored the real issues, rather serving as a social and political barometer to determine the level of trust or otherwise between the Governors and the Governed.
The most affected nations were by no means prepared to face this challenge! Ebola is like an unexpected stranger in an African setting, who arrives today and informs of how he would wish to get back to the village the next day, but with plethora of request for help, knocking the door of the host. Not expected, not prepared for!
These are the challenges we are faced with not only as a country, but at a sub-regional level- the Mano River Union. The economic growth triangle of these nations, within the Makona River will, for the next months or years to come, not be fully explored and judiciously utilized given that our attentions have been diverted to fighting this ‘unexpected stranger’
But we need not give up! We should be strong and remained resolved! I had attended a donation ceremony of medical drugs to the three most affected nations by a Chinese Pharmaceutical Group here in Beijing. Bluntly but factually put, a Medical Professor referenced how China was faced with the severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002 and how the world almost ignored the sleeping giant at the time. For him, the MRU nations should be “strong and not give up”
In Sierra Leone, the Government has demonstrated the required leadership. It has taken the lead and the president deserves commendation. Actions have been taken that showed the will and there is now a high level of public awareness that indeed Ebola is real. Public acceptance was a major challenge when it all started. The president, in my view, has done just what is expected from a leader.
With the help of our development partners and friendly nations like PR china, Australia, UK, USA et el, we will succeed in this fight. AND THANKS TO THEM BUT WE NEED MORE!!
The Ebola stigma is a serious challenge that could not be fought completely for months and perhaps years to come. Survivors are stigmatizes, non-infected people travelling from the affected nations face same outside their country, the list goes on and on. Ebola is a real enemy but another enemy within is the stigma it came with. But one thing is, this will become history. Ebola is real, it knows no boundary, it kills but preventable when precautionary measures are taken. Listen to what the Ministry of Health and Sanitation says for a better country, free of Ebola.
AM PROUD TO BE A SIERRA LEONEAN NO MATTER WHAT!