Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"How Big Is Africa?" or "Why I'm Not Getting Ebola and Neither Are You"

Yes, I know, I'm woefully behind in blogging. We went to Thailand, and I have almost literally worked non-stop since then, with the exception of some planned out fun (hiking in Boulder, new house party for MJ and Chris...) Getting back has been a zoo. I have some major work with super-tight deadlines, and this is just what I have had to do for a while...

Anyway! At "some" point, I'll update. In the mean time, I just MUST write this, or very possibly my head may explode.

I'm not getting Ebola, and neither are you.

In a couple of weeks, I'm heading to Kenya for work. I've had a number of conversations about the possibility of getting sick while travelling to Kenya with well-intentioned people. Today, however, these travel conversations progressed in a way that I found hurtful to people I really care about, who happen to live on the continent of Africa. These conversations stemmed from misunderstanding, but more from fears that the people involved refuse to let be resolved by understanding the facts, and that makes me mad. So... indulge me, for  the sake of my exploding head.

Ebola is contained to three countries: Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. There was a single case reported in Senegal, and a few in Nigeria, however, the spread of the disease in these countries has been contained, and no new cases have been reported. The WHO declared Senegal and Nigeria Ebola-free.

All of the affected countries are on the western edge of the continent of Africa. To get from Monrovia, the capitol of Liberia (the hardest hit country, according to the CDC) to Nairobi, the capitol of Kenya, you would have to either travel by plane for 20 hours, including two plane changes, or get in a car for 98 hours. It is 7,315 kilometers between the two capitol cities.

It is 4,469km from New York City to Los Angeles.
It is 5,162km from Denver to Anchorage.
It is 7,015km from Anchorage to New York City.

I could take any of those trips, and still not travel as far away as where the disease is from where I'm going.

There are currently 10,114 cases of Ebola in West Africa. That is a large number of people, but keep in mind, the total populations of the three affected countries is 12.136 million people.

12,125,886 people do NOT have Ebola in the countries in Africa where the disease is active.

Ebola is hard to catch. Unlike the flu (which 50,000 people will die from this year in the US alone), is it NOT airborne. There have been no known cases of anyone walking down the street, and randomly catching Ebola. There are no known cases of catching Ebola on an airplane, and certainly not an airplane going from Denver to DC to Zurich to Nairobi and back again.

Ebola is tranferred through contact with body fluids. The people most at risk for Ebola are those living with and caring for a person who is exhibiting active symptoms of Ebola, and healthcare workers in clinical settings where the virus is being treated.

Realistically, Ebola is also harder to contain in these cultures than simply not shaking hands and using Purell. My friend Katy recently wrote a really good article that shares the nuances of the subject that is worth a read. However, that doesn't mean that Ebola is magically showing up thousands of miles away en masse. The cases that appeared in the US have very clear transmission paths (and the people who were on airplanes with the victims are still healthy.)

Our penchant for misinformation about Ebola stems, in part, from a colonialistic perception of Africa. We treat "the dark continent" as a monolith, and westerners often do not have a good understanding of the geography, the politics, or the varying cultures present on this absolutely enormous area of the world. Not the place, not the time, but that is certainly another soap-box I could get on and stand on for a long time. Suffice it to say, we would NEVER make the same assumptions about Americans and America that we do about Africans and Africa. Ever hear anyone say, "Oh, you're travelling to the US? Aren't you afraid of the entereovirus?"

So! I'm travelling to Kenya. I'm not going to get Ebola.

Thank you for helping my head not explode.

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