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Ebola worrying UI students about family safety

BY ERICA MAHONEY | OCTOBER 30, 2014 5:00 AM

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As the Ebola epidemic has become a more substantial issue in the past month, University of Iowa students who have family in the most-affected countries of West Africa are growing worried.

UI student Martina Korpue, who has family living in Liberia, said she’s worried about her family catching the disease because of overcrowding.

“My family lives in the city of Monrovia, and being that it is more populated and congested in that area, the disease spreads at a rapid rate, which is my main concern for my family over there,” she said.

Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea are the three main countries to be affected by Ebola, said Ronald McMullen, a UI visiting associate professor of political science and former U.S. ambassador to Eritrea.

He said many other countries in the region have been able to prevent Ebola thus far.

“Several countries in the region, such as Ghana, have successfully mobilized their public-health systems to try to prevent Ebola from spreading to their countries,” he said.

McMullen said that the public-health systems in the most-affected parts of West Africa are having a difficult time handling the situation.

“There just aren’t enough facilities, lab equipment, protective gear, and trained health care workers to contain the crisis,” he said. “The World Health Organization, the U.S. government, and many others are rushing assistance to the affected West Africa countries.”

One former UI student who now lives in Guinea said people are afraid of Ebola.

Mamadou Oury Barry said that everyone in the country is taking precautions to avoid the disease.

“We do everything possible to avoid this disease,” he said. “We avoid all direct contact with people, avoid going to public places, and wash our hands regularly. It’s really a pity to live in this country and have family here in this time of epidemic. Everyone is afraid.”

Jeremy Youde, University of Minnesota-Duluth associate professor of political science and department head, said that the countries’ health-care systems struggle is only one of many consequences of the disease.

“Epidemics can have a major economic effect,” he said. “There are the direct costs of responding to an epidemic, but there are also significant indirect costs: people unable to go to work, businesses closing down, investors pulling money out of the country.”

Youde also described how the government and the country as a whole would be viewed after going through something such as the Ebola epidemic.

“Epidemics can place a big burden on the political system,” he said. “Can the government make effective policy? Can it demonstrate competence? Do leaders use an epidemic as an excuse to introduce discriminatory or undemocratic legislation? Finally, epidemics can damage a country’s reputation. They can contribute to a country being seen as diseased and therefore a place to avoid.”

UI graduate student Vidura Ufeli, who has three sisters living in Nigeria, which has been deemed Ebola-free, said that more people need to be informed about the disease.

“I just feel that people need to read and be educated on what exactly is going on and how to remain safe,” he said. “The fear is only increased by ignorance about the virus.”


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