Ebola virus virion

Outbreak: The Truth About Ebola, BBC TV – 4th June 2015

They reckon it was started by bats. Some children show the camera the tree where they found the bats. That was before people started dying, one of the children said.

When people started dying in the village, many of those who could leave did leave and they took the virus with them.

In one village the local spiritual leader succumbed. She had been a highly revered healer and, as was the tradition, they laid out her body and washed it. Many became infected. Hundreds of deaths.

As Hans Rosling says, it’s stupid to see Africa as a basket case. You have to remember where Africa has come from. It’s made huge advances in the past century. Some of the reasons behind the spread of Ebola come from African moderness. People travel. They are far more mobile than they used to be. A generation or two ago a virus like this might have wiped out the village or two, but that would have been it. People weren’t that mobile supervisors wouldn’t spread. The fear was that with out being able to track those carriers of the virus would get into a densely populated African city, and that’s exactly what happened.

It also spread across borders. The woman believed to have brought Ebola To Sierra Leone spoke about telling her that white people were after her and that they would kill her with an injection. Conspiracy theories seemed to spread with the virus.

There were riots when the government started quarantining people by throwing those who were infected and many who weren’t into warehouses with mattresses on the floor. Rather than an inept attempt to deal with an epidemic that was getting out of control, people claimed that Ebola was a myth perpetuated by the government as an excuse to imprison and kill people.

To believe that all this suffering and devastation had come about by chance, by a group of children dislodging some bats in a tree, that was not a satisfying belief. Such a major event had to have conscious human agency behind it. It needed a villain.

Governments fed into these conspiracy narratives by trying to play down the magnitude of the epidemic because they didn’t want to scare away lucrative investors and they didn’t want panic in the streets. They will also guilty of motivated reasoning, choosing to listen to those who told them it would all blow over in a week or two rather than those who had extensive experience of epidemics were insisting that this was far more serious and dangerous fighters were admitting.

Eventually, when there were cases in Europe and the US, the world took notice and did something, though one thing that seems to have changed the course of the epidemic was the actions of people. People stopped washing the dead and started burning bodies instead. Traditions are not set in stone. Look at how Africa has changed in the last 50 years. Or Europe, or China. What we take for granted now was unthinkable for our grandparents. Change is happening faster than ever. We have to grab the wheel and steer or we’ll crash.

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