(By Mustafa Yusuf-Adebola)
“Like lawyers say, ‘the fact speaks for itself’. Ebola has no cure yet but can be prevented via hygienic practices. It is impressive that federal and state health officials have taken proactive measures at sensitising the public but more still needs to be done in this panicky society to prevent the current experience being witnessed at Liberia where death tolls have increased largely as a result of ignorance. One would urge the government as a constitutional duty of not only protecting lives and properties but in providing amenities to citizens to resolve the impasse currently going on with the striking doctors“.
IT started like a joke but as the day progressed, it became a sick joke and a grave source of concern. On Friday, August 8, 2014, messages circulated round urging Nigerian families to bathe with a mixture of hot water and salt. As the day progressed, I got to find out that a lot of families (especially mothers) had received phone calls from relatives very early in the morning to bathe with the latest Ebola ‘anti-virus’. Some also went spiritual citing texts or prayers to read along whilst mixing warm water with salt. Others were advised to drink the water-salt solution.
This recent joke that went viral also shows our level of education in the society – a situation where people go through school in order to get the certificate but school does not go through them in order to make the best use of the certificate. Literacy is not just about reading and writing. It is about having understanding of issues. I was amazed to see supposedly educated people making use of the anti-virus ‘solution’.
Some reports had it that this joke emanated from a Blackberry Messenger user who was simply being cynical; others say it came from a traditional ruler. Nevertheless, the highlight of the episode was the easy manner Nigerians are not question information before processing and making use of it – ignorance and misinformation collaborate successfully in a developing or/and under developing nation. It is no surprise that on realising this, public officials tend to take us for a ride when explaining issues as the tendency to query and analyse information passed on to them is low; a case in view was the ridicule the nation was subjected to during the illness of late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua. It is a situation of ‘garbage in’ – what we are given is what we get. This is part of the reasons the Boko Haram insurgency has so many conspiracy theories thereby looking like a myth.
As Ebola shares symptoms with other diseases, unnecessary panic has been created in two scenarios; one, anyone with symptoms similar to the virus like aches or fever is now being systematically stigmatised. Two, such individuals may (for the fear of being stigmatised) keep illnesses to themselves rather than report to health authorities. Paradoxically, it now appears a problem to become sick due to mass ignorance!
An instance of unnecessary panic was witnessed recently where an individual posted on social media, a picture of health personnel fully kitted with protective clothing at a hospital in Lagos Island. Without due confirmation, this was tagged as another case of an Ebola victim in the hospital. As if this was not enough, another news item was circulated on social media about the missing whereabouts of the cab driver who picked Patrick Sawyer from the airport. This is despite the fact that he arrived Nigeria as an ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) delegate and such logistics would normally/already have been arranged by the Commission.
As it has been previously admonished, there is a need for the responsible use of social media by individuals and bloggers particularly as the desire for fame and generating traffic to their websites respectively overwhelm ‘journalistic’ ethics to report accurately and objectively. Using technology as a means of rumour mongering rather than a tool for research is an underutilisation of resources.
In a country where religious institutions compete with industries in terms of number, religiosity cannot be easily ignored. Just last weekend, I watched a live broadcast where the Pastor of a church tried to water down concerns about the virus. He spoke about how he had sent ‘anointing water’ to those affected by the virus in order to cure them. Whilst everyone has the right to believe in any faith, caution should be applied here as such people (just like those who believe the disease is a scam; hence it doesn’t exist) may have experienced being a teacher to them when it is too late.
Like lawyers say, ‘the fact speaks for itself’. Ebola has no cure yet but can be prevented via hygienic practices. It is impressive that federal and state health officials have taken proactive measures at sensitising the public but more still needs to be done in this panicky society to prevent the current experience being witnessed at Liberia where death tolls have increased largely as a result of ignorance. One would urge the government as a constitutional duty of not only protecting lives and properties but in providing amenities to citizens to resolve the impasse currently going on with the striking doctors.
Sensitisation is urgently needed in passing the correct information about the disease to the public via various public and private institutions such as market leaders, media organisations, school teachers, corporate organisations and transport unions. As it was cited earlier, we all need to take preventive measures amongst which are preparing food properly and safely, reducing gatherings or contact with persons, consulting medical professionals and reporting to the relevant authorities when necessary. This is not a time to create panic and spread false information; it is a time to employ knowledge as a weapon to contain the disease.
The fear of Ebola is perhaps the beginning of wisdom.
Mustafa Yusuf-Adebola, a risk consultant in Lagos.
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