January 7, 2015

One of the major stories in 2014 was the Ebola crisis. Actually, the story’s beginnings in West Africa received relatively little media attention, despite the rapid increase in new cases in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea throughout the spring and summer, with initial death rates ranging from 50% to 90%.

Then a nurse and a physician who had become sick with Ebola in West Africa were flown to the U.S. for treatment. They survived, but Donald Trump got media attention with his call to ban other American health care workers with Ebola from returning to the U.S. for treatment.

On September 30th, the CDC reported that the first case of Ebola had been diagnosed in the U.S. Thomas Eric Duncan was a Liberian man who arrived by plane in Dallas, Texas, at the end of September to visit his finance. Prior to leaving Liberia, he had been with people who had Ebola. Duncan became ill, and was initially sent home after being seen at Dallas Presbyterian Hospital. But he got sicker and subsequently tested positive for Ebola. He was hospitalized at Dallas Presbyterian and died on October 8th. He was the first person to die of Ebola in the US.

The media frenzy began.

The diagnosis of two people coming into the U.S. with Ebola and two nurses becoming ill after exposure in a U.S. hospital led to an escalation of media coverage of Ebola that bordered on fear-mongering. It led to calls for banning flights from West Africa and quarantining all Americans who have contact with people with Ebola. But the initial media coverage brought hope to those who knew that bringing public attention to the health, humanitarian, and economic impact of Ebola in West Africa was essential to get the West’s attention and resources to bear on the crisis. Unfortunately, American media’s attention was on Ebola in America, with only limited attention to what was going on in West Africa.

The media is fickle. One minute media coverage of one issue is unrelenting and terribly redundant. The next minute, there’s no attention to the issue. It’s been six weeks since Craig Spencer was discharged from New York’s Bellevue Hospital and over two months since a case of Ebola was diagnosed in this country. What media coverage of what is happening in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have you seen?

The silence is deafening, as we approach 20,000 cases of Ebola in West Africa, almost 8000 of whom have died, compared with 4 cases in the U.S. and one death of a man who was diagnosed late in the illness.

On Thursday, January 8, 2015, at 1:00 PM, Healthstyles once again focuses on the story of Ebola. Host Diana Mason, RN, PhD, interviews nurse Deborah Wilson, RN, a nurse who spent six weeks in Foya, Liberia, caring for patients at an Ebola Treatment Center run by Doctors Without Borders. Her return to the U.S. coincided with the two Dallas nurses being diagnosed with Ebola, so she experienced the paranoia of friends, family, and colleagues whose fear of becoming infected was out of proportion to the realities of the disease. Mason and Wilson reflect on what happened in 2014 and what the implications are for 2015.

So tune into Healthstyles on January 8th, from 1:00 to 1:55 PM on WBAI, 99.5 FM, New York City, or at www.wbai.org. To listen to the interview any time, click here: