Imagine a world torn apart by fear – where people are afraid to even come into contact with one another as a deadly disease spreads. You may not know if a loved one has been infected – the incubation period is 21 days. There is no vaccine. For those infected, they may survive if they can get a blood transfusion in time, but many will die a painful death. Late symptoms include bleeding from the ears, nose, eyes and mouth.
It sounds like a post-apocalyptic movie. But across western Africa, this is a reality. This is the worst epidemic of the Ebola virus since it first emerged in 1976. Hundreds have been infected, and 400 have died. The most shocking part of this is that most of us will not have heard anything about it.
Usually a mass epidemic is headline news. In modern times, Sars, bird flu and swine flu dominated headlines – with good reason – as they spread. Airborne disease can cross borders rapidly, potentially killing thousands. Contingency plans were quickly put into place across the globe to combat the spread.
So why have we heard so little about Ebola? Transmitted by bodily fluids, it does not spread as easily as airborne diseases. And as such it bears no immediate threat to the Western world. As war, famine and diseases decimate populations in poorer countries, perhaps we have become immune to bad news unless there is a question of it affecting us. And, to be fair, there is only so much bad news that we can process.
But process we must. Awareness is key for diseases like Ebola, as are research and medicinal advances. And the gaze of the Western world – and its media – is essential to drive this. So let’s pay attention, even if it isn’t on our doorstep.