The battle of logic versus emotion in the fight against Ebola

تم النشر: 7 يوليه 2014 9:19 CET

By Katherine Mueller, IFRC

Katherine Mueller is the communications manager in Africa for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. She has been deployed to Sierra Leone to support the Red Cross response to the Ebola virus disease outbreak.

After a long journey which included two cars, two planes and a boat, I have arrived in Sierra Leone. I am here to support the Red Cross response to the Ebola outbreak that has killed close to 500 people here and in neighbouring Guinea and Liberia.

I am immediately struck by the friendliness of the locals I meet on my way from the airport to the hotel. There appears to be much respect here for the Red Cross. The customs officer waves me through when I mention I am with the Red Cross. The operator of the speed boat which will take us across the bay to the capital of Freetown offers his hand in gratitude for the work we do.

I hesitate about whether to shake this man’s hand. Ebola has not surfaced in Freetown and the chances of this man being infected are minimal. But this virus only needs a small opening in which to spread its deadly tentacles.

If this man is infected, and I have a cut on my hand, I could also become infected simply by shaking his hand. I check my hands for any cuts. I don’t appear to have any but quickly decide I will need to figure out a way to politely refuse a proffered hand without offending anyone.

This virus, which I have come to know a lot about in the past few months, has suddenly become very real. The technical, book knowledge I have gained is beginning to be overshadowed by the reality on the ground. It reminds me of when I was deployed to Japan in 2011, following the tsunami. The plane was virtually empty as people stayed away due to the nuclear concerns from the broken Fukushima nuclear plant. For me, it was an internal battle of emotion versus logic. Would I trust the knowledge shared by the nuclear, biological and chemical weapons expert who briefed me before going into the field? Or would I allow emotion to stymie my ability to respond. Logic won out, and I am confident it will win out here in Sierra Leone as well.

But it provides some insight into what we at the Red Cross, and other partners, are struggling to achieve. People here are afraid. They don’t know the Ebola virus. It is new, not like cholera which surfaces during the yearly floods. They think it’s people like me, international aid workers, who are responsible for the outbreak. They think their government is trying to kill them. It is emotion, not logic, which is currently ruling their decision-making process. Our challenge is to find ways of reaching these people, to make them listen to logic, to show them how Ebola does not have to be a death sentence. A little bit of education can go a long way in stopping this disease.

It is raining now and as I work from the hotel, I listen to the sounds of young boys playing soccer outside. They are the sounds of youth, carefree and innocent. They are fortunate. They don’t know about this deadly disease which is causing carnage in the eastern part of their country. They don’t feel its weight. Hopefully, they never will.