During this class, I always look forward to the times when I can apply the readings from the week’s assignment to my major and future professional goals. That is why I found the article “Why Are So Many Women Dying From Ebola?” by Lauren Wolfe so interesting. Ebola has been a hot topic in the news recently, with new stories being published each day during the peak of its media thunderstorm. The ebola outbreak got serious coverage in the media when the disease reached the United States in late September of this year, causing concern for the possibility that it could spread outside of Africa. Shortly after the first case of ebola came to the United States, links to articles talking about the disease began popping up all over social media. Some of the articles included titles like “Why We Should All Be Afraid of Ebola – A Nurse’s Perspective” or “Ebola- Just a Matter of Time Before It Becomes Airborne”. These articles frustrated me to no end. It seemed like Americans were turning a real epidemic that was happening in Africa into a new epidemic: “fear-bola”.
Fear-bola refers to the irrational fear of Ebola that has rapidly spread across the United States. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, nearly two thirds of Americans are concerned about an epidemic outbreak in the U.S. Another recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that 45% of people are afraid that they or a family member will contract Ebola.
Although there have only been nine documented cases of Ebola in the United States in 2014, resulting in one death, the fear of an Ebola pandemic in this country is widespread. For comparison, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that, on average, over 26,000 people died annually in the United States from seasonal influenza, the flu, from 1976 to 2007 (A Place of Hope).
One journalist even described the fear that Americans have for ebola being equivalent to the fear that spread during the height of the HIV/AIDS outbreak in the 1980s (Washington Post Fear-bola). Except there is one major difference: the HIV epidemic was at its highest in the 1980s, where numbers of incidences reached 130,000 but the ebola epidemic has only three known cases in the United States, where only one resulted in death (History of HIV/AIDS in US).
In this clip below from Late Night with Seth Meyers, Meyers jokes about the “fearbola” epidemic”.
What we should be focusing on and worrying about is the fact that most people who are dying from ebola in Africa are mainly women. According to Wolfe, up to 75% of ebola victims are women. Ebola spreads through contact of either bodily fluids or blood of a person who is showing symptoms of the disease. Because women are the primary caregivers in African countries like Liberia, women are usually in the first wave of people to come into contact with the sick. Many epidemics have a gender role, with some disease affecting one sex more than the other. Sometimes men are affected more as seen in the dengue fever epidemic, Wolfe points out but it is hard to predict on a biological level what gender will be affected more by certain diseases because not enough resources are being put into researching gender roles in epidemic and disease outbreaks. If more time and energy was spent on acknowledging that women are being affected by diseases such as ebola because of their role in society, then I think we could come up with a way to stop the disease from spreading.
In many African societies, it is hard to break the old way of thinking that women cannot be a head-of-household and get an education and work in an office like men do. IEEWEP (Initiative for the Economic Empowerment of Women Entrepreneurs Project) is trying to break that mold.
In the video, it explains how funds are being provided by ExxonMobil for women to increase their income and involvement in local businesses. Projects like this are important because they provide a way for women to become self-sufficient. The example of the widowed mother in the video is the perfect testimony as to why it is important for women to be able to provide for themselves and their families and not be solely dependent on men or others in the community.