West Africa steps up response to Ebola as press calls for more

Press in West African countries hit by Ebola are reporting on the challenges for health care providers and criticizing local and government responses.

Michael Duff/AP
A man and woman taking part in a Ebola prevention campaign holds a placard with an Ebola prevention information message in the city of Freetown, Sierra Leone, Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014.

The death toll from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has risen to 932. Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone are battling the disease with a handful of cases now being reported in Nigeria.

But while the disease has spread only slowly so far, anxiety is rising across West Africa. On Wednesday Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared a state of emergency for 90 days. “The government and people of Liberia require extraordinary measures for the very survival of our state and for the protection of the lives of our people,” she said.

Many local newspapers in West Africa are saying efforts like Sirleaf's haven't gone nearly far enough, and also worry that the fear Ebola engenders is undermining efforts to contain it. For instance, the Sun newspaper in Nigeria ran a story headlined “Doctors, nurses panic, reject patients with symptoms similar to EVD.”

The chairman of the medical association in Lagos State told the Sun that low salaries and the hazards of treating Ebola are making doctors fearful.

Nigeria has reported just nine cases of the disease.

Sirleaf acknowledged that Libera's health care system is “under immense strain" from fear.

"Many common diseases, which are especially prevalent during the rainy season, such as malaria, typhoid, and common colds, are going untreated” because healthcare professionals are afraid to accept new patients, leading to deaths unrelated to Ebola, she said. “Our doctors are worried about the danger it poses to their lives and they need to be reassured."

A Nigerian doctor complained to The Sun of equipment shortages. “As leaders of the people in the health industry, we will not allow the government of Ni­geria to deceive anybody that they have equipment.”

Lack of education on Ebola

An editorial in the Liberian Observer was critical of the response from average citizens, saying they were continuing to act “foolishly, recklessly, irresponsibly and dangerously” by not properly disposing of bodies or heeding the advice of health care providers.

In the wake of this terrible emergency throughout the country, the government is trying to play its role, but if the people do not cooperate, the epidemic will spread out of control and the lives of ALL the people will be in jeopardy.

Sirleaf addressed the same issue, saying “ignorance (and) poverty, as well as entrenched religious and cultural practices continue to exacerbate the spread of the disease.”

An opinion column in the Liberian Observer titled “Fighting Ebola – A Test To Our Patriotism” discussed cultural traditions for honoring Liberian dead, acknowledging the challenges they pose to the fight against Ebola. “How long will this persist? For how long will our people die from Ebola? Let us be more serious in the fight. Let all of us get on board.”

Both Sirleaf and Sierra Leonean president Ernest Ba Koroma did not attend the Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., this week, deciding to stay at home and deal with the ongoing spread of Ebola. While Sirleaf was criticized for her government's early response, her declaration of a state of emergency and establishment of a task force have gained some praise. 

Guinea’s president Alpha Condé, on the other hand, decided to attend the summit in Washington and the local press took note.

The French-language Guinee News ran a long piece criticizing the government’s reaction to Ebola, contrasting Mr. Condé’s focus on the country’s mineral resources to what it said was a lack of concern for public health.

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