Fighting an invisible enemy an ocean away
Jenny Hudalla | Editor-in-Chief
Taylor McElree | Staff Writer
Published in The Clarion 2014 – 2015
Inside Ebola: Bethel Students Speak Out
Senior psychology student Hamida Pabai was 9 years old when she left her home in Freetown, a major port city along the coast of Sierra Leone. Ravaged by civil war, the West African country was in shambles by the time Pabai and her family were admitted into the U.S.
Though the war has long since ended, Sierra Leone is battling a new, invisible enemy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 593 citizens of Sierra Leone have died from Ebola so far. With three siblings, three nieces and an uncle still there, Pabai has had no shortage of worries since the outbreak began.
“It’s been really stressful, constantly having to call and make sure everyone is okay,” she said. “No one is working because they’re afraid to go out, so we have to send money home for them to survive. I’m always praying that my family isn’t a victim and that it’s all over soon.”
Pabai’s brother, who serves in Sierra Leone’s military, was deployed to Somalia on a peacemaking assignment before Ebola struck. Although his service term ended in June, he hasn’t been able to return to his family because the country closed its borders.
“It’s chaos there,” Pabai said. “People don’t trust the government. They think doctors are infecting patients. They’re crying out for help, and they’re looking at us.”
While the West African countries affected by Ebola need supplies and aid, Pabai believes education is most important of all. Even if outside nations could provide Ebola- ridden areas with necessary medication, Pabai said, it would do no good without knowledge of the virus and precautionary steps.
“If you know someone from these countries, just ask them if there’s anything you can do to help,” said Pabai, who has already made sacrifices to support her family in Sierra Leone. “Our people need help. It is overwhelming, but it feels good to know that there are other people who care.”
Having emigrated from her native Liberia in 2007, senior social work and reconciliation studies student Gorpu Sumo has had to watch her country suffer from an ocean away.
Though Sumo is now an American citizen, much of her family — including her older brother, three younger sisters and most of her first cousins — still lives in Liberia.
“It’s really scary, having to watch this virus tear through the country,” Sumo said. “All you can do is call people and tell them to be safe. But when you’re not there, it’s hard to understand the circumstances. Someone could sweat on a chair, and someone else could sit down and get Ebola, just like that.”
Though Sumo first heard about Ebola when it spread across the Democratic Republic of the Congo several years ago, she never thought it would affect her so intimately. About three months after the outbreak began, Sumo found out that her sister-in-law – a nurse in one of Liberia’s care centers – had contracted the virus.
“My brother sat in a clinic for hours before he found out she had died,” Sumo said. “She was lonely. She had no one. We don’t even know where she’s buried. And now her son has to live without a mother. That’s the part that gets me.”
Though the virus has killed an estimated 1,578 Liberians according to the CDC, little progress has been made in terms of containment. According to Sumo, the rate at which Ebola has spread has overwhelmed health- care professionals.
“People are being turned away [from hospitals] because there isn’t any space,” Sumo said. “They can wait for someone else to die and take that person’s bed, or they can go home and die there. They just don’t have the resources. There’s not enough aid. It’s a helpless situation.”
While the outbreak is limited to West Africa right now, Sumo said Americans would do well to educate themselves about Ebola and join in the effort to defeat it.
“It might seem like it’s far away at the moment,” she said. “But I never thought Ebola would come to Liberia, let alone take away a family member. It travels quickly, and right now is the me for us to come together and put a stop to it.”
Dr. Samuel Zalanga
According to anthropology and sociology professor Samuel Zalanga, who hails from Nigeria, it is paramount for the Bethel community to recognize that there must be more than just a short term solution to the problems plaguing Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
While people are ready and willing to combat the virus itself, Zalanga said, they are often not as enthusiastic about putting an end to the issues that allowed the Ebola epidemic to happen in the first place. Zalanga cites not only lapses in the West African health care system but also the absence of education in these countries, their distrust of their governments and their lack of economic relevance on a global scale as permanent contributors to the origin and continuation of the outbreak.
“You cannot talk about health care without considering many other factors when discussing developing countries,” Zalanga said.
Among these factors is the evidence suggesting pharmaceutical companies do not adequately research the diseases that affect poorer countries because there is little economic incentive to do so. Drug manufacturers don’t want to devote precious me and energy into something that will have no financial return. According to Zalanga, almost half of the African population makes less than $1.50 per day. This means that in the global economy, these people are considered surplus.
“If they die,” Zalanga said, “it makes no impact.”
Until issues like these are eradicated, the developing countries of West Africa are susceptible to massive tragedies like the Ebola outbreak plaguing them now.