Isolated cases of Ebola have been identified in North America. However, this should not concern the general population and instead attention should be directed to the root of the problem in Africa. Here’s why.

What exactly is Ebola?

Ebola viruses were first discovered in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), in 1976. The disease’s high lethality is due to its tendency to infect blood vessel cells. Once Ebola enters the bloodstream it damages the cells that line blood vessels, causing circulatory system damage or failure. This results in the rashes, bruising and bleeding. The cause of death is usually sepsis, which is a whole-body inflammation due to severe infection.

The current epidemic began in Guinea during December 2013. It spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone. As of October 12 8,400 cases have been reported worldwide, of which 4,033 were fatal. This epidemic has been the most severe outbreak of Ebola since its discovery.

What has made Ebola so much more successful this time around? Some insight reveals that it is not Ebola which has changed, but rather Africa. Africa now has a population of 1.1 billion, more than double what it had in the 80’s. Bigger cities and greater rural expansions paired with faster transportation between urban areas and the bush mean that the disease is able to reach more people faster than ever before. That is why this epidemic is killing more people. It’s reaching more people.

With that said, the virus is still largely contained to West Africa. Ebola cases reported in Europe, South America, and recently North America have largely been specially contained medical evacuations, such as infected aid workers being taken back to their native countries for improvement medical treatment. The distinction between these contained cases and free-transmission is not always clear in media reports, and it is here where misconceptions arise.

Ebola is not a realistic threat in North America. The media has its own interests, and sensationalist headlines such as “DISCOVERY OF NATIVE EBOLA CASE: TEXAS ON HIGH ALERT” draws the attention of readers. We have a more advanced and accessible health care system, as well as a higher level of public education and awareness. Western countries have resources that developing countries lack. Simply put, the North American public is too well-informed, and our healthcare is too advanced for  Ebola to be a significant problem.

The greatest threat to arise out of the Ebola pandemic in North America is not the virus itself, but rather the general apathetic attitude towards people who are actually at risk. High-profile networks such as CNN focus on singular cases in the United States and dedicate a colossal amount of air time speculating about hypothetical scenarios, when the spotlight should be focused on the epicenter of the epidemic, in West Africa. People that are truly at risk are the real victims of the self-obsessive North American mentality. It is rare to hear anyone comment about the situation in West Africa itself, only the possible spread of the virus to North America. Selfishness is the face of North America.

The truth is that news networks and their derivatives are, first and foremost, businesses, designed to make money. Just a peek at tabloids near the grocery checkout proves sensationalism and yellow journalism have their roots deep in North American culture. Sadly, mainstream news is not immune. Any Torontonian could testify to the sheer amount of news matter surrounding the Rob Ford drug scandal, and high-profile criminal cases such as the O.J. Simpson murder trial, and more recently, Oscar Pistorius, have been meticulously dragged out by networks hoping to puff up their viewership. In all of these examples, the emphasis is never on the victim, but the famous perpetrator. Can you even name Pistorius’ girlfriend? Now, Ebola is in the spotlight, but the camera is pointed the wrong way.

So what can we do? We should redirect our efforts to help combat the spread of Ebola in Africa, where they are in dire need of support such as medical and monetary aid. Organizations like Doctors Without Borders are currently sending medical aid directly to the areas which need it  most, although financial donations are always needed to keep their operations going. Other organizations such as UNICEF and the CDC Foundation have led efforts as well.

In the end, we put out our neighbor’s fires, not because the flames might spread to us, but  because it is the neighborly thing to do. Ebola is not a current threat to us, but keeping our heads down and out of sight is the wrong way to act. The world is a global community, it is high time we act like global citizens.


Illustrator: Joy Wang

Illustrator: Joy Wang





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