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Ebola scare stigmatised African immigrants in the US

Ebola Virus

Washington : The deadly Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa led to a social stigma against African immigrants in the US, an analysis of the news coverage of the Ebola scare has found.

The study reviewed reports in mainstream US media related to African immigrants and the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

The search turned up 21 news articles that matched the criteria for the study – articles focusing on African immigrants in the US and the Ebola virus.

The researchers found that these African immigrants experienced stigma similar to communities stigmatised by the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

“There was strong discrimination against homosexual men during the AIDS epidemic and laying blame on that population for the spread of the virus,” said Guy-Lucien Whembolua, assistant professor of Africana studies at the University of Cincinnati in US, who led the study.

“Similarly, in the early stages of the Ebola Virus outbreak in West Africa and amid sensationalised reports, we found a fear linked with African immigrants around spreading the disease in the US. Some of these populations felt they had to hide their ethnicity in an effort to avoid the stigma,” he said.

As a result, particularly in New York where there’s a high Liberian immigrant population, there was a great deal of shame in being associated with Liberia, he said.

“Children were teased in high school, or adults were the butt of jokes at work. People from Nigeria also were stigmatised by the Ebola scare, resulting in stress and hardships for these populations,” said Whembolua.

The researchers add that understanding this stigma faced by African communities in the US could help improve health promotion programmes targeting immigrants.

They emphasise that the outbreak highlights a need for research on infectious disease that is relatively unknown in the US and the western world.

“There’s more to the high death rate from the Ebola Virus in West Africa than just the virus itself,” said Whembolua.

“These countries don’t have the infrastructures to combat the virus, and most of the populations affected already have low immune systems as the result of living in an impoverished country,” he said.

The Ebola outbreak in west Africa has killed 11,312 of the 28,457 people infected since December 2013, according to WHO figures.

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